Deliverable 4.1 - Legal framework


The legal framework of the waste sector developed by the European Union in the last two decades needs for a new approach to conform to new challenges.

European Commission has adopted a new formula, more general and not limited to the waste recycling topic, named “action plan for a circular economy” in which waste is only a part of the product’ life-cycle.

In the “circular economy” (that is a part of a broad process of sustainable development) we start from the production activity to get to development of markets for “secondary” raw materials, derived from waste.

So waste management is one of the main areas where further improvements are needed to reach higher levels of waste prevention, reuse and recycling. The achievement of these objectives can open new economic opportunities, improve raw materials supply to industries, create local jobs and reaffirm the European leadership in green technologies sector.

The aim of European authorities is to implement the so called “waste hierarchy” (till now the cornerstone of the European waste politic), which ranks waste management options according to their sustainability and gives priorities to the prevention and the recycling of waste.

The EU legislation in force today focuses, first, on the reduction of waste; secondly, on the reuse (or preparing for the reuse) of the waste; thirdly, on the recycling (and, before, on waste sorting); finally, on other form of recovering from waste (also forms of energy recovering) and the disposal. This “waste hierarchy” reflects the preferred environmental option from a climate perspective: disposal in landfills or through incineration with little or no energy recovery, is the least favorable option in the light of the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Waste prevention, reuse and recycling have instead the highest potential to reduce those emissions.

The recent proposals tend to higher recycling targets, to obtain a reduction of the landfill and, above all, to implement the waste treatment processes able to generate energy (the so-called waste-to-energy, that covers much more than waste incineration).

The fact is that it’s difficult to find a shared solution between the different positions of the Member States. Until now Waste Directives tend to admit some flexibility in the application of the hierarchy. To support the transition toward a more circular economy the goal is to shift upwards the implementation of the EU waste hierarchy.

Those different positions of the Member States are the reasons of the slowing down in the approval of the new Directives on waste (for which we have a proposal of amendment of the older Directives but no agreement on the contents).

More specifically the European Parliament called on the Commission to include in its new proposal the following elements:

  • clear and unambiguous definitions;
  • developing waste prevention measures;
  • setting binding waste reduction targets for municipal, commercial and industrial waste to be achieved by 2025;
  • clear minimum standards for extended producer responsibility requirements to ensure transparency and cost effectiveness of the extended producer responsibility schemes;
  • applying the ‘pay-as-you-throw-principle’ for residual waste combined with mandatory separate collection schemes for paper, metal, plastic and glass in order to facilitate the high quality of recycling materials; introducing mandatory separate collection for biowaste by 2020;
  • increasing recycling/preparation for reuse targets to at least 70% of municipal solid waste and 80% recycling of packaging waste by 2030, based on a solid reporting method preventing the reporting of discarded waste (landfilled or incinerated) as recycled waste, using the same harmonised method for all Member States with externally verified statistics; an obligation for recyclers to report on the ‘input‘ quantities of waste going into the sorting plant as well as on the ‘output‘ quantity of recyclates coming out of the recycling plants;
  • strictly limiting incineration, with or without energy recovery, by 2020, to non-recyclable and non-biodegradable waste;
  • a binding, gradual reduction of all landfilling, implemented in coherence with the requirements for recycling, in three stages (2020, 2025 and 2030), leading to a ban on all landfilling, except for certain hazardous waste and residual waste for which landfilling is the most environmentally sound option;
  • encourage Member States to introduce charges on landfilling and incineration.

There is a large consensus on the need to harmonize the reporting and calculation methods of recycling targets as well as to improve the comparability and reliability of statistics. Minimum requirements for extended producer responsibility schemes are also seen by many as necessary, even though there are divergences on how exactly they should be defined. Diverging views have also been expressed on the level of ambition of the targets.

These divergences are hindering the reform of the waste sector: Directives present critical aspects (transfused in Member State legislations) due to the fact that new needs are arisen and new technologies allow to solve in different ways old and new problems, offering more efficient solutions. But the lack of adequate rules of law obstacles scientific progress.

This complex situation is reflected in European law and in the law of Member State: different solutions to similar problems are adopted within single State legislation and, sometimes, in the law of smaller areas (with legislative power) of the same single State.

We have tried to gather the main current waste legislation of EU, Italy, Provincia Autonoma di Trento, Municipalitat of Barcelona (and of Spain too), City of Lisbon (and of Portugal too) and South Wales (and of UK too).