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EU Legal Framework and the Role of Regional and Local Authorities

EU Legal Framework

For the last 30 years, waste has been at the centre of EU environment policy and substantial progress has been made. With waste increasingly seen as a valuable resource for industry, approaches such as re-use, recycling and energy recovery are starting to be applied to regulated wastes. The European Union now aspires to become a recycling society by both reducing waste generation and optimising recycling.

The 6th Environment Action Programme

The 6th Environment Action Programme, which sets out the framework for environmental policy-making in the European Union for the period 2002-2012, listed ‘Natural resources and Waste’ as one of its four priority areas. The Programme’s Thematic Strategy on the Prevention and Recycling of Waste aims at reducing the overall generation of waste and moving from disposal to re-use and recycling. It calls for companies and public authorities to take a life-cycle approach that must also take account of how waste policies can most efficiently reduce the negative environmental impacts associated with the use of resources through preventing, recycling and recovering wastes.
To move towards this objective, the Strategy states, improving the knowledge-base, promoting optimal combination of economic and legal instruments, and developing common reference standards is necessary.

Directive 2008/98/EC on waste (Waste Framework Directive)

The Waste Framework Directive (WFD) sets definitions related to waste management, lays down some basic waste management principles, and explains when waste becomes a secondary raw material (end-of-waste criteria). It requires Member States to adopt waste management plans and waste prevention programmes, and introduces the "polluter pays principle" and the "extended producer responsibility".

Furthermore, the Directive legislation and policy of the EU Member States shall apply as a priority order the following waste management hierarchy: prevention; preparation for re-use; recycling; recovery; disposal. The WFD also sets two new recycling targets to be achieved by 2020: 50% preparing for re-use and recycling of municipal and similar waste, and 70% preparing for re-use, recycling and other recovery of construction and demolition waste.

The Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (COM(2011) 571)

Part of the Resource Efficiency Flagship of the Europe 2020 Strategy to achieve smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, the Roadmap outlines how Europe's economy can be transformed into a sustainable one by 2050. It provides a framework for the design and coherent implementation of future actions, proposing ways to increase resource productivity, and to decouple economic growth from resource use.

For waste, the Roadmap sets the milestone that waste shall be managed as a resource by 2020. High quality recycling and re-use of waste are to be economically attractive options for public and private actors due to widespread separate collection and functional markets for secondary raw materials. Recycling is to become the main treatment methods for all types of waste with more materials, especially those with a significant impact on the environment and critical raw materials.

However, despite these activities, waste remains a problem. In its European Environment State and Outlook Report 2010, the European Environment Agency (EEA) states that waste generation is still increasing and that there are important discrepancies between Member States. Legislation is often poorly implemented, and there are significant differences between national recycling approaches and performances. The potential for waste prevention and recycling is not at all fully tapped in Europe. As the SOER 2010 notes, "there is considerable room for improvement (...) if Europe wants to become a recycling society".

The Role of Regional and Local Authorities

Regional and local authorities are key actors for the practical implementation of this recycling society. While the general framework is developed by the EU institutions, most of the instruments designed to improve municipal waste management performances are to be decided at regional or local level. However, comparisons among territories are currently difficult due to heterogeneous monitoring methods, different realities behind common terminologies and the difficulty to weight performances with external parameters linked to the territories’ local specificities. For instance, the scope of municipal waste is different from one territory to another, and its composition can differ greatly.

R4R reflects the need of regional and local authorities to cooperate in order to strengthen monitoring, achieve a better understanding of the impact of both external factors and local instruments, and gain a clearer of view on the different waste management approaches and good practices in order to improve their recycling performances. R4R will also help local authorities to assess their situation compared to European targets and towards each other, allowing them to keep track of the progress made and the journey and challenges that still lie ahead.


Intereg IVC European Union
site last updated 09 December 2016
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