Cohesion Policy for sustainable resource use and waste management

The ways in which Europe treats its waste has large impacts on climate change and sustainable resource use. Incinerating the things we throw away causes the release of CO2. Landfilling our waste causes the release of methane - a much stronger greenhouse gas.

Solutions

Recycling offers more environmental benefits and lower environmental and climate impacts. It is also more labour intensive so it creates more jobs. The reduction of waste and the reuse of materials reduces pressure on our planet's scarce resources.

The priority for EU funding in the waste sector should be to decrease waste volumes, while also rapidly increasing separate collection and recycling. Funds for waste management should prioritise prevention of waste, reuse of waste, separate collection, recycling and composting.

Sustainable waste management

Waste incineration is an outdated and expensive technology, and is bad for the climate. The inflexibility and long lifespan of incinerators (usually 20 years) blocks improvements in reducing and recycling waste. This is because an incinerator needs to keep burning the same amount of waste to remain profitable.

Unfortunately EU funds continue to be spent on incineration plants in central and eastern Europe.

Investing in incineration leaves recycling and composting underfinanced. It may also jeopardise waste recycling targets set by the European Union.

Instead of supporting harmful waste treatment practices, EU funds should be invested in integrated sustainable waste management. These should be tailor-made for the region concerned.

EU funds should promote non-incineration, waste prevention and management methods. EU funds should primarily support:

  • the prevention of waste - by supporting cleaner production methods, rational purchasing and packaging reduction
  • the re-use of materials and products - through promoting re-usable packaging, second hand trade and repair centres
  • recycling and composting – for example the system of door-to-door separated waste collection can ensure higher levels of recycling and composting
  • anaerobic digestion - by composting under low-oxygen conditions, which produces methane that can then be burnt for energy
  • Mechanical-Biological Treatment – a range of technologies that can be used as a last resort to recover materials for recycling and low-grade composting. This cannot replace separated waste collection due to the low quality of the recovered materials. However it removes the remaining organic waste from the residual waste stream and results in stabilised waste that can be landfilled relatively safely.