Waste Management Review speaks to the European Commission’s Rozalina Petrova on how the EU plans to achieve its bold recycling targets.
The European Union’s (EU) directives on circular economy and resource recovery have had a significant influence on waste management policy discussion in Australia.
Under the EU’s Directive passed in 2018 to reduce the burden of single-use plastics on the environment, EU-wide market restrictions will be applied to plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, all products made of oxo-degradable plastic, expanded polystyrene food and drink containers and other single-use plastic products. The restrictions cover products where sustainable alternatives are available.
The widespread reform has now seen the SA Government looking at similar measures on single-use plastic, followed by the ACT.
The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia regularly cites the EU as an example of the leadership possible to achieve a circular economy. The EU’s 2018 Circular Economy sets ambitious recycling targets increasing progressively to 65 per cent of municipal waste by 2035 and 70 per cent of packaging waste by 2030. A binding target of a maximum of 10 per cent of by 2035 applies to municipal waste landfilling. When put into the context that the EU Commission is responsible for implementing legislation representing 28 member states and a population of about 513 million, these aren’t small numbers.
Rozalina Petrova, Policy Officer for Waste at the Directorate General for Environment of the European Commission, joined the commission in 2010 to work on a roadmap document for a resource efficient Europe. She tells Waste Management Review that this outlined the path to increase resource productivity and decouple economic growth from resource use.
“It also defined the EU framework for various policies to work together and build on each other. The EU Circular Economy agenda on which I subsequently worked stemmed from the resource efficiency strategy, and gave a new impetus for policy development in the environmental area,” Rozalina explains.
“In 2015, I took up the challenge to be part of negotiating the new EU waste legislation, which set one of the most ambitions set of recycling targets in the world.”
She says that reaching the EU’s targets will mean there will be a need to improve separate collection and waste recycling in each country, region and municipality in the EU.
“It also means improving the markets for secondary raw materials and boosting investments in waste prevention and recycling,” she says.
While economics can often be a barrier to accelerating environmental reform, Rozalina says that economics are at the core of policies aimed at sustainable development.
“We have estimated that achieving 65 per cent recycling of municipal waste in the EU would require up to 30 billion euro of investments by 2035,” she says.
She says that the “polluter pays principle” applied in the EU is essential to ensure sustainable financing of the waste management system.
“Making producers responsible for the waste of their products is an effective way to implement this principle. Producers in the EU have such responsibility for a number of streams – end-of-life vehicles, batteries, now also packaging and fishing gear,” she says.
“Pull measures for secondary raw materials are also important. Recently EU legislators agreed on 30 per cent recycled content in beverage bottles.”
Rozalina’s lessons for Australia are that EU legislation demonstrated how bold, far-reaching and future oriented policy initiatives can make policy makers at national, supranational and local levels, industry and civil society all work together to find solutions for a better future.
The EU has also set a target for all plastics to be recyclable by 2030 and Rozalina says the EU has to ensure that the design of plastic products facilitates high quality recycling.
“Plastic waste has to be separately collected, properly sorted and recycled to produce high-quality secondary materials. There should be no trade-off between choosing for a recycled plastics product and selecting for quality,” she says.
She notes that a true circular economy is about keeping our resources in the economy for as long as possible.
“As citizens, we can choose products that are designed to be durable, repairable, reusable, refillable or upgradable.”
Rozalina will present a keynote address on day two of Waste 2019, a leading conference for the waste sector in Australia and a household name. Attracting more than 630 delegates nationally and internationally, the conference targets anyone who works in or has an interest in waste.
The three-day conference at the Opal Cove Resort in Coffs Harbour will feature presentations from government agencies such as EPA NSW, QLD Department of Environment and Science and Sustainability Victoria. Major waste companies Cleanaway and Bingo Industries and an array of local government representatives will also feature, as speakers discuss a variety of topics ranging from food waste to waste-to-energy, behavioural change and more.
Technical tours and pre-conference workshops will also form part of the Waste 2019 event, along with networking events with experts in the field and the annual theme dinner.
Rozalina hopes the conference will give her the opportunity to get acquainted in detail with the recycling market in Australia, learn from the way Australian business and policy makers have dealt with its challenges, share the EU experience and discuss the trends that will shape the future of the circular economy.
“I am particularly interested in improving the design, collection, sorting and recycling chain in order to deliver truly circular materials that we can re-inject in the economy for use in high added value applications, in innovation in waste management and recycling technologies, and in involving the citizens to participate in the move to a zero waste society,” she says.
Waste 2019 takes place at the Opal Cove Resort, Coffs Harbour from 14-16 May.
To register your interest for Waste 2019, visit www.coffswasteconference.com.au