Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR)
European section of United Cities and Local Governments

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Waste management and circular economy

Waste management - 04.05.2018

Interview | Why thinking small is the secret to big success
55% of municipal waste to be recycled by 2025: this is one of the objectives set in the new European legislation on waste and the circular economy, adopted by MEPs on 18 April.

CEMR spokesperson for Environment and Lincolnshire councillor (LGA), Marianne Overton, analyses how the revision of these 'Waste' directives will impact local governments.

Are you satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations between the Parliament and Member States?

I am delighted that the EU has accepted the points raised by CEMR, notably on the definition of municipal waste, increased transparency and extended responsibility of the producer, encouraging separate collection of waste where possible, action on food waste, energy recovery, and green procurement.  

This is a good outcome for local governments and the communities that they represent.  However, local government cannot do this alone: we are calling for adequate funds to meet our shared aspirations. A successful strategy requires significant changes in the way that as a community we produce, package, consume and reuse materials.

How are local governments going to translate the EU directive’s objectives into concrete actions? 

Local governments are always improving the management of waste, but there is a limit to what can be achieved at this end stage. The real need is to reduce waste, especially those that are difficult to recycle. We need to work with producers and retailers to achieve better product design and packaging that is both reduced and recyclable.

Local government is close to the citizen, and able to focus on the small, localised innovations that together can make a big difference. Then we can encourage others to do likewise. For example, many are offering more refill points for people to fill up water bottles; banning single-use plastics from municipal buildings; promoting volunteer anti-litter and clear-up schemes. 

Towns and regions need certainty to invest in waste management, so clarifying the definition of waste recovery sets our direction. There is a shift from “energy from waste sites” (incineration) to biodigesters*. Tighter definitions of recovery are needed to clarify what role incineration can play in energy recovery. Incineration can be an option for treating waste, provided it has high energy recovery standards.

And in Lincolnshire?

Around 360,000 tonnes of waste per year of municipal waste is taken by the ‘Lincolnshire Waste Partnership’. That is about half a tonne of waste per year for each person living in the county. 47% is recycled, reused or composted; 50% is converted to energy, largely through our Energy from Waste facility (incinerator) and less than 5% goes to landfill.

However, we now face a number of challenges. The population is growing, producing more waste, yet funding from central government has dropped significantly. The recycling rate has stalled nationally and is even falling slightly locally. The recycling bins are well-used, but only 75% of it is cost-effective to recycle. A quarter of what we receive in our general waste collections is recyclable, and we need to separate out food waste to further improve.

We are writing a new strategy for waste management, shared between our eight local governments, covering nearly 750,000 people. It is in line with both the new EU waste framework and meeting the UK targets. 

What do you expect to achieve with this new strategy?

We aim to improve the quality and therefore commercial value of our recycling stream. This will be helped by standardising what we separately collect and recycle across Lincolnshire. 

We need to use all waste as a resource and separating out food waste collections for composting is expected to bring a steep change. We set challenging, but realistic local targets to measure our environmental performance. 

What can local and regional governments do to meet EU objectives? 

Preventing waste in the first place is clearly the place to start, though it is not easy. Local governments do tackle manufacturers and retailers, to discourage the use of any packaging that is not recyclable. Polystyrene and single-use plastic has been the mainstay of making goods easy to display and to carry, but easily recyclable packaging makes waste disposal easier for our residents, saves considerable amounts of money and energy, whilst protecting our environment. 

Public pressure makes a difference and I see some residents have taken to leaving the packaging in the shop! Scientific research may bring answers too, such as plastic digesting enzymes that can operate in our biodigesters.

How could the EU support towns and municipalities?

There needs to be an appropriate and effective financial framework to help local governments to achieve EU targets and objectives. 

Achieving a change in infrastructure, away from landfill and incineration, will be challenging to local governments at a time of major financial constraint in most countries. Food waste is an example of this: many local governments would like to be able to introduce food waste collection services. However, the business case for getting more councils to introduce food waste collections is marginal, because adopting a separate food waste collection can have significant upfront costs.

Looking beyond waste, how does Lincolnshire fit into the circular economy and thus help tackle climate change? 

Climate change carries significant challenges at the local level in Lincolnshire in that we have a long, sandy coastline with large portions of our county around sea level, increasing the risk of flooding and severe weather. Like other areas, we are also at risk of drought from low rainfall, loss of topsoil important to this agricultural county, higher risk of skin cancer, heat stress among our many elderly, as well as decline and changes in our biodiversity. 

In 2012, Lincolnshire signed the Climate Local Agreement committing the council to addressing both the causes and effects of climate change. Climate Local is an LGA initiative committing the council to working across all areas to reduce carbon emissions and embed longer term adaptive actions.

The Lincolnshire sustainability team have created a risk assessment tool, which supports all teams in understanding the impact that climate change will have on what they do and has created a comprehensive adaptation action plan.
*Biodigester: A device in which organic waste is digested by bacteria, typically producing biogas.

Next steps

The text will be sent to the Council for formal approval and will be followed by transposition into national legislation within two years of its adoption.
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