How the EU Green Deal impacts your waste management duties

The EU Green Deal means huge changes for organizational waste management. Here’s an overview of what to expect for your business.

by Josephine Derks

Waste management is an undertaking that all organizations must contend with, regardless of their size or function. Yet the scope of its related regulations is expanding in light of growing awareness about its environmental impact. Whether in an office, a warehouse, a manufacturing facility, or a data center, waste operations take place everywhere. In the dynamic waste landscape, however, it is becoming more challenging for companies to remain compliant with waste management requirements and best practices. Enter the EU Green Deal.  

Introducing the EU Green Deal: Reforming waste management

The EU Commission introduced the EU Green Deal in a bid to tackle waste management challenges. It came on the scene in December 2019 and is intended as a roadmap to help the European Union transition to climate neutrality by reducing carbon emissions to 55% by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. These targets are laid out in the pivotal European Climate Law.  

The European Green Deal sets out to reach these ambitious emission reduction targets by: 

  • pursuing green, affordable, and secure energy; 
  • introducing an industrial strategy for a clean and circular economy;  
  • tackling biodiversity loss;  
  • setting in motion sustainable and smart mobility; 
  • fostering sustainable agriculture and fisheries; 
  • ensuring zero pollution; 
  • making investments greener. 

Essentially, the EU is focused on decoupling economic growth from resources use while ensuring that no person or place is left behind. One of the most fundamental ways for achieving this, as recognized by the EGD, will be by tackling Europe’s approach to waste and waste management.  

A circular economy action plan

A  circular economy action plan has been devised to enable organizations to get a handle on waste management and bring the EU Green Deal’s plans to fruition. The plan is focused on implementing a regenerative growth model through the circularity of materials and by lowering consumption footprints. 

Additionally, the plan is committed to halving the amount of residual (non-recycled) municipal waste, such as food waste, by 2030, promoting safer and cleaner waste streams, and ensuring high-quality recycling. In turn, the waste obligations of businesses are to be changed, primarily by circular economy processes that subsequently encourage sustainable consumption.  The plan has also instigated the adopted proposals by the European Commission for new rules on waste shipments and to update rules on persistent organic pollutants in waste.  

The EU is focused on decoupling economic growth from resource use while ensuring that no person or place is left behind.

An expanded strategy for plastics waste management

The EU’s strategy for plastics in a circular economy builds on existing EU measures to reduce plastic waste. The strategy looks to support further sustainable and safer consumption and production patterns for plastics, by ensuring that all plastic packaging is recyclable by 2030.  

Consequently, producers of plastics will be subject to new design constraints, prohibitions, and take-back requirements, which will build on the developments of Directive (EU) 2019/904 of the European Parliament on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment. This has already led to various single-use plastic items being phased out and banned from the EU market, including straws, plates, and stirrers.  

The Directive also introduced a 77% separate collection target for plastic bottles by 2025, which will increase to 90% by 2029. Plastic producers, recyclers, retailers, and consumers are likely to have to adhere to new or revised reuse and recycling of end-of-life plastics schemes or policies as a result. Many businesses are already looking to get ahead of these changes and implement measures that move their operations away from plastic use or, where this is not possible, implement other schemes such as additional recycling and plastic credits. Plastic credit is a certificate that represents the collection of a specified weight (for example, one kilogram, one metric ton) of plastic waste recovered or recycled that would otherwise have ended up in the natural environment.  

Revising the Waste Framework Directive

Several EU waste management laws will be, and in some cases have already been, reviewed as part of the transition to a resource-efficient and competitive European economy. 

Chief among these is the Waste Framework Directive, for which the European Commission was seeking comments on its intended proposal to improve waste management in the EU and the enforcement of the Directive until mid-February 2022. 

The main policy areas that were up for review were waste prevention and separation, waste oils, and textiles. Emphasis was placed on ensuring the stricter implementation of the so-called ‘polluter pays’ principle and circumventing illegal waste dumping.  

Waste management directives to look out for

The European Commission is currently carrying out an impact assessment to prepare for the revision of the Waste Framework Directive. The impact aims to identify opportunities stemming from the revision, which include waste generation and increasing the re-use of items, such as waste oils and textiles. 

In line with the revision, the European Commission has released a public consultation to collect opinions and ideas on how to successfully implement the Waste Framework Directive in the future. The consultation seeks to gather best practices, the potential economic, social, and environmental challenges that the revision could pose, and how best to manage these challenges. 

In addition, the European Commission recently presented a proposal to introduce new regulation on eco-design for sustainable products and adopted the Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Working Plan 2022-2024 as part of the EU Green Deal. Here, the European Commission is aiming to make sustainable products the norm within the EU. Organizations should anticipate big changes such as stricter end-of-life requirements and more codified recycling and waste management schemes in the near future and make the necessary arrangements to comply with them.  

It’s time to get ahead of waste management

Organizational approaches to waste management have historically been inconsistent, generally representing a piecemeal approach that some feel does not do enough to tackle emerging climate challenges. The EU Green Deal has been introduced to solve this through legislative intervention, in order to compel organizations to rethink their approaches to waste management. Now is the time to get ahead of the curve and implement a culture of positive waste management to ensure that you are  fully compliant with the significant changes that are yet to come.  


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