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Dump it or not – how does the waste legislation concern us?

April 24, 2015

This trend is promising: EU citizens produced in average less municipal waste in the year 2013 than compared to the level in the mid-1990s. Municipal waste is defined as waste generated by households, but also to some extent by small businesses and public institutions. This finding was reported on 26th March 2015 in a news release by Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU. Looking at the actual average amount of 481 kg/person/year municipal waste generated in 2013 (approx. 40 kg/person/month), the figure still seems to be dramatically high when I try to recall and compare this amount of waste to my waste behaviour in an average month.

A hint on the question as where this amount (varying between 747 and 272 kg/person/year in the EU member states) comes from, gives the detailed composition of municipal waste:

  • 25% Kitchen waste (Food waste)
  • 18% Paper and board
  • 12% Plastic

These three fractions are the largest sources for the waste that we produce daily in our households.

Legislation on waste – helping or hampering

The generation of municipal waste decreased continuously from 2007 to 2013 and this ambitious trend should be continued in order to a) comply with EU policies and programmes ([2],[3] and [4]), and more importantly, b) reduce wide ranging problems to human health and the environment [1]. The circular economy package by the European Commission [5] could be a key in reaching this aim as it is seen as “a new business model in which products are designed to be stripped down to their smallest components after they’ve been used, with the parts re-inserted into the production chain instead of being discarded” [6]. The abolishment of the circular economy package on 25th February 2015 and the promise for resubmission by the end of 2015 [7] was highly criticized among representatives from industry NGOs, municipalities and public service providers: It would send the wrong signals to Member States, failing in the provision of coordinated waste policies and legal certainty [8].

You can read more about the contents of the abolished proposal, further plans and some counteractions in Valentina’s blog post.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) recently proposed the ‘Circular Economy Package 2.0’ as a fundamental assistance for the Commission to resubmit the proposed legislative package [9]. The focus in this second proposal shall be put more on the prevention and re-use of waste as well as better product policies. Piotr Barczak, the EEB Policy Officer for Waste highlighted that a circular economy can’t be built on recycling only but also on cutting down the waste which is generated.

How are we involved?

In other words, there is a movement from the treatment of waste (landfill, incineration, recycling) to more environmental cautious measures like the re-use and the prevention of waste (see illustration). And this is the point where we, as the public, come into the game and can actively contribute to creating better living conditions for ourselves and the generations after us.

Waste legislation is generally an important concept to make us act according to certain rules but can, as we saw in the paragraph above, be a very slow and fragile process to advance towards a competitive but also clean and healthy Europe.

 

This means, it is high time for us to act in terms of waste prevention and question our own waste behaviour. Because ‘waste prevention’ – the light green box in the illustration above – can only be as effective as the actual waste producers are!

And those waste producers are us, at least for the sector of municipal waste, which makes up for 9% of the total waste generation in the EU [11].

Waste is a burden for humans, the environment and the economy

The consequences of waste are immense; not only after the lifetime of a product when we throw it into the dumpster and an entire process chain of waste collection and waste treatment starts. Also before this same product is turned into waste, a range of steps is often necessary for preparing or even creating this product for its actual purpose.

Those steps were totally in vain if the product would be going to waste before its actual purpose. To be more specific, many food products often don’t reach their actual purpose of being eaten by humans! There are dozens of reasons why food is dumped, often before its consumption, and this FAO webpage visualizes key findings on food waste per product category, per processing/consuming sector and per continent.

The illustration on the webpage shows and it is sad to see that within all food categories the human food consumption contributes with a large portion to food waste.

The solution for throwing still edible food away is not far from us! More conscious behavior with the food that we eat is key to this problem. The author of the illustration above suggests to shop food according to a list and to know your consumption habits for buying according to them. But to keep this resolution is not always easy if we stand in a super- or hypermarket and discount sales such as “three for the price of two”, “20% more for the same price” or “pay less if you buy three different products together”, etc. are advertised. What if we don’t need these extra 20% or the additional product because we can’t finish it at home before it gets unfit for consumption?

In this case it would be desirable to buy a product which contains the amount that we actually can consume. And if this product is more expensive than the advertised one but doesn’t produce waste, it would still be worth it.

This is because the environment would not be burdened with the waste and the economy could focus on producing food instead of treating waste. If this sounds reasonable, here are some more recommendations on how to cut the food waste that we produce in our everyday life.

By: Daniel Frohnmaier


 

REFERENCES:

[1]    http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/

[2]    7th Environment Action Programme, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/newprg/

[3]    Resource Efficiency Roadmap, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/resource_efficiency/

[4]    Raw Materials Initiative, http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/raw-materials/index_en.htm

[5]    http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/index_en.htm

[6]    https://euobserver.com/economic/127944

[7]    Commission under pressure over circular economy http://www.euractiv.com/sections/sustainable-dev/commission-under-pressure-over-circular-economy-312551

[8]    OPEN LETTER REGARDING THE WITHDRAWAL AND RENEWED DISCUSSION OF THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY PACKAGE: http://www.municipalwasteeurope.eu/newsitem/open-letter-president-juncker-circular-economy-signed-15-organisations

[9]    EEB 2015: Circular Economy  Package 2.0: Some  ideas  to  complete  the  circle.  European Environmental  Bureau: http://www.eeb.org/index.cfm?LinkServID=1E2E1B48-5056-B741-DB594FD34CE970E9

[10]  EEB 2014: Not bad, but can do better: leaked EU proposal on circular economy. News archive. URL: http://www.eeb.org/EEB/index.cfm/news-events/news/not-bad-but-can-do-better-leaked-eu-proposal-on-circular-economy/

[11]  Eurostat 2010: Waste statistics. URL: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Waste_statistics

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