Skip to content

Maija Pohjakallio: EU is raising targets for recycling rates – Calculation methods should be updated

The Chemical Industry Federation of Finland views that the regulatory framework of the circular economy should be based on life cycle thinking.

It is expected that in May the EU Commission, Parliament and the Council will start the trilogue negotiations on the final form of the revision of waste directives related to the circular economy package.

The European Parliament adopted its position on the revision in March. The chemical industry in Finland welcomes the boosting of a more circular economy and thus supports many of the items listed in the revision. However, the approach is not holistic enough and too much emphasis is put on detailed steering of individual material streams.

The focus of the Parliament’s position is on setting numerical recycling targets. F. ex. by 2030 the share of municipal waste to be recycled should be raised to 70%. This is an ambitious objective; in 2014 the corresponding figure in the EU was 44 %. For packaging materials, such as paper, cardboard, plastics, glass, metal and wood, the new target for recycling is 80 % (by 2030). Simultaneously the amount of waste to be disposed of by landfilling should be limited to 5 %.

Target setting is important, but there is a risk that if the focus is too much on raising the recycling percentages of individual material streams, it boosts scattered development rather than optimal holistic solutions. This is especially true, if the calculation methods of the percentage numbers include simplifications which cannot recognize the environmental and economic benefits brought by advanced technologies.

One such simplification is that the calculation methods only acknowledge material use of waste as recycling.  All energy use is excluded, no matter how large the added value and environmental benefits of the refining process and resulting energy products are. F. ex if waste fats are refined into renewable diesel to be used as advanced fuels for cars or aviation, it’s not considered as recycling. Instead, if waste fats are composted, they are considered as recycled. Following this logic we should organize a composting campaign next Christmas instead of a new Ham Trick.

The Chemical Industry Federation of Finland views that the regulatory framework of the circular economy should be based on life cycle thinking. End use (material or energy) is not the only criterion of sustainability and thus the calculation of recycling rate targets should not be based on it solely. The focus of the development of the European circular economy should be in high tech competence and in increasing global export and co-operation between different sectors. We call for the regulation to enable this.   



Views on the circular and bioeconomy by the Chemical industry federation of Finland:

The revision process of the EU waste legislation

Maija Pohjakallio

Senior advisor, Circular and bioeconomy