Councils will have to recycle 70% of household waste by the end of the next decade, under proposals unveiled on Wednesday by the European commission. This would require a significant increase in the proportion of UK waste diverted from landfill.
At least 80% of packaging waste will also have to be recycled by 2030, as Brussels toughens its stance on the amount of rubbish buried underground. By 2025, there would be a total ban on sending waste to landfill that could have been recycled.
The new targets will be difficult for the UK to meet, as recycling rates have recently stagnated after a period of rapid growth in the past decade. According to figures released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in November, 43.2% of waste in England was recycled in 2012-13. That figure was just 12% in 2001 but the UK is still well behind Austria and Germany, which recycle 63% and 62% of their waste respectively.
Green campaigners said the plans did not go far enough, and that more ambitious targets would stimulate the industry and provide greater economic benefits, and sooner.
But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sent a strong signal that it could resist the targets when they are debated. A spokesman told the Guardian: “We think the commission’s proposals may have underplayed the potential costs to business, householders and local authorities and will want to consider the impacts fully before we respond. “While we support efforts to reduce waste we need to ensure that any new legislation would meet our priorities to protect the environment, incentivise growth and avoid unnecessary burdens.”
A key part of the plan is to develop better markets for recycled materials. At present, much of what is recycled is returned to use in a low-grade manner – for instance, recycled glass in the UK is often used as a component in road-building materials, rather than turned back into bottles. This assigns a low value to the waste. If markets were better developed, then recyclates from metals to plastics could be sold as a resource in place of virgin materials.
The commission believes that the new targets could create more than half a million new jobs in waste management across the EU. The targets will also encompass plans to combat marine litter, which is a serious hazard to aquatic life including seabirds, whales and dolphins, and food waste, which can be used to create compost and fertiliser or to generate energy from capturing the methane it produces as it rots.
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This article has been adapted from an article published by The Guardian.