EU Waste Framework Directive
The EU Waste Framework Directive is not a law in itself. It does, however, provide the legislative framework which member countries use to make sure they are all delivering similar waste recovery and disposal services that meet everyone’s needs. This includes:
- Having waste disposal processes in place that do not cause harm to human health and the environment.
- Having a legislative system in place for permits, licenses and inspections when it comes to handling waste.
The EU Waste Framework Directive covers the collection, transport, recovery and disposal of waste. Much of the emphasis of the directive is on the prevention of waste in the first place and the aim of producing a significant reduction in the amount we send to landfill, recycling or recovering in these cases instead. There are additional directives that focus on particular waste streams including clinical and hazardous waste for which most countries, including the UK, have laws in place.
Agreeing to the directive also commits the UK to recycling 50% of its household waste (and 70% of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste) by 2020. Currently around 44% of waste is recycled.
Key to the EU Framework Directive is the 5 step waste hierarchy.
The first step in the waste hierarchy is to prevent the production of waste in the first place. Businesses, and to a smaller extent homes, have a duty of care to ensure that they find ways to reduce the amount of waste created. This can involve putting in new, less wasteful office processes, making sure that products are packaged more sustainably or keeping equipment that can be repurposed and reused rather than sent to the rubbish tip. Examples can include:
- Offices that change to digital processes rather than printing out costly hard copies via printers, saving paper and toner.
- Manufacturers who reduce the amount of packaging they use in products or opt for biodegradable packing.
- Catering firms who only prepare food that is going to be used and not wasted rather than having stock piles ready to go.
Where possible we should all be trying to reuse rather than sending to waste and landfill. This is again particularly relevant for businesses who should all be finding ways to repurpose equipment like PCs and smart devices. This can include repairing or cleaning equipment that can be still used in the business or that can be passed on to places like charities where uses can be found for various items. It can also include simple practices like using printed waste for scrap paper.
A key component of the waste hierarchy, of course, is recycling, turning waste into to new products. This can include everything from making recycled paper to removing components from electrical equipment and separating them into metal, plastic and glass that can be returned to manufacturers and used to make more products. The benefits of this are two fold – the initial waste doesn’t go to landfill and making products from recycled waste is a lot eco-friendlier than using virgin materials. For example, replacing recycled aluminium saves about 95% of the energy that would be used creating something from virgin materials.
4. Other Recovery
This area of the waste hierarchy has seen vast improvements over the last few years. Mostly it concerns waste material that cannot be reused or recycled and using it for heat and energy production. Many cities are now beginning to build processing plants that incinerate waste that would in the past have gone to landfill and create electricity.
The final solution for waste is to send it to the dump. With initiatives such as the Landfill Directive we are trying to send less and less of our waste to landfill. By the end of 2014 we were recycling about 44% of our waste. However, in 2013, the amount of biodegradable waste that we sent to landfill was around 9 million tonnes. Obviously, we still have some way to go before we send zero waste to landfill but the signs are certainly good. For specific types waste such as construction and demolition waste we are managing to recover over 80%.
The EU Waste Framework Directive underpins everything we do in general waste management. It’s emphasis on prevention, recycling and reuse means that we are not only acting more sustainably but also helping to improve the environment.