European Scrutiny Committee Contents

37 Bio-waste management



COM(10) 235

Commission Communication: Future bio-waste management in the EU

Legal base
Document originated18 May 2010
Deposited in Parliament25 May 2010
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationEM of 14 June 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone, but see footnotes 151, 152
To be discussed in CouncilSee para 37.8
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


37.1 One of the EU's strategic goals has been to reduce the impact on health and the environment of the increasing amounts of waste generated by economic growth. Although waste management is already governed by a substantial body of regulation, the Commission believes that there remain opportunities for further improving the management of some major waste streams, including bio-waste (defined as biodegradable garden and park waste, and food and kitchen waste). In particular, it has pointed out that very different national policies apply to bio-waste management within the Community, and that consideration should be given to whether national action is sufficient, or Community action is needed. It therefore sought in December 2005 to explore in a Thematic Strategy[151] the various issues which arise, and this was followed in December 2006 by a Green Paper.[152] In the light of responses to that latter document, it has now produced this Communication, which seeks to draw conclusions, lays out recommendations on the steps needed to reap the full benefits of proper bio-waste management, and describes the main potential courses of action at the different levels (and how to implement them).

The current document

37.2 The Commission observes that between 118 and 138 million tonnes of bio-waste is produced within the EU each year, of which about 88 million tonnes is municipal waste. It notes that the waste management options available include separate collection, biological treatment (including anaerobic digestion and composting), mechanical-biological treatment, incineration and landfill, with the environmental and economic implications of each depending on local conditions. Within this framework, it notes the three main approaches adopted by Member States — heavy reliance on incineration of waste diverted from landfill, accompanied by a high level of material recovery and biological treatment; high material recovery rates accompanied by composting and mechanical-biological treatment, but relatively low incineration; and reliance on landfill, particularly in a number of the new Member States. It also points out that on average 40% of bio-waste within the EU is still landfilled (with consequential environmental risks such as emissions of greenhouse gases and pollution of soil and water), and that this contravenes the guiding principles of EU waste and sustainable resource management policy, notably the "waste hierarchy", which identifies prevention as the best option, followed by re-use, recycling and energy recovery.

37.3 The Commission goes on to review the Community legal instruments relating to the treatment of bio-waste. In addition to the general requirements laid down in the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC), these include the Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC) which requires the level of biodegradable bio-waste from municipal landfills to be progressively reduced by 2016 to 35% of that in 1995. It goes on to point out that, if the recycling and recovery of bio-waste were to be maximised, this could:

  • save up to 60% of the food waste generated by households;
  • avoid about 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions, representing a 4% contribution to the EU's target of reducing emissions from sectors not covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme by 10% in 2020 compared with 2005;
  • contribute, through the resultant production of bio-gas, about one-third of the EU's target for the use of renewable energy in transport;
  • increase the market for compost by a factor of 2.6, to reach about 28 million tonnes;
  • produce resource savings by substituting 8-10% of phosphate, potassium and lime fertilizers with compost; and
  • improve 3-7% of depleted agricultural soils in the EU with compost.

It notes that these are in part alternative solutions, but that there are certain synergies, and it says that its analysis confirmed that the current EU policy framework provides significant and cost-effective opportunities for improved bio-waste saving, with the most important of these being the avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions, followed by the production of good quality compost and bio-gas. It also suggests that a better alignment of bio-waste management with the waste hierarchy and other provisions of the Waste Framework Directive would produce environmental and health benefits of between €1.5 and 7 billion.


37.4 The remainder of the Communication sets out a number of actions which could be taken to optimise bio-waste management. It says that, whilst Member States should be given a wide level of discretion in choosing the measures best suited for their own circumstances, initiatives at EU level will help to accelerate progress and ensure a level playing field. It therefore proposes to take the following steps:

—  Prevention of bio-waste

The Commission notes that, under the Waste Framework Directive, Member States are obliged to develop national waste management plans in line with the waste hierarchy, and must also develop national waste prevention plans by 2013, with benchmarks to measure progress. However, it says that, in the vast majority of Member States, no clear and measurable steps have been taken to increase bio-waste, due partly to lack of clear guidance, and that, although the impact of binding EU prevention targets cannot yet be assessed, it could itself adopt indicators under the Comitology procedure. It adds that this could be supported by specific guidance on bio-waste prevention, whilst work continues towards developing a set of indicators for future EU-level waste prevention targets.

—  Treatment of bio-waste

The Commission says that, where bio-waste cannot be prevented, Member States should choose the best management options according to their circumstances, and that a number of them have already reduced, or are expected to dramatically reduce, landfilling and increase treatment. However, it also believes that, without further incentives, some Member States will in the foreseeable future be unable to take significant steps towards composting and bio-gas production, despite the significant potential benefits. It recognises that, due to different conditions, further work is needed, notably from a subsidiarity perspective, before considering whether to move towards an EU target for biological treatment, and it says that it will attempt to conclude whether such a target could be set by 2014, though it adds that this would probably have to be accompanied by enhanced separate collection.

—  Soil protection

The Commission suggests that compost and digestate from bio-waste are under-used materials, often because of a lack of end-user confidence, and that their use should be regulated so as to avoid adverse effects on soils. It considers that standards for compost and digestate should be established to enable their free circulation and to allow their use without further monitoring, and it is therefore considering the technical basis for such a proposal. It also notes that not all biologically treated waste will comply with the highest standards, but that these materials could nevertheless be valuable if applied in a safe manner, and that, although full harmonisation across the EU would not be feasible, minimum rules could be set as a safety net.

—  Research and innovation

The Commission notes the importance of research and innovation in developing new technologies, and that the Seventh Framework Programme (2007-13) contains a number of relevant themes.

—  Full implementation of existing measures

The Commission says that, although existing legislation provides an excellent basis for bio-waste management, it needs to be properly implemented, and that it therefore intends — in parallel with Member States — to reinforce its efforts in this area, together with preparing guidelines on the application of life-cycle thinking and assessment in the waste sector. It identifies the diversion targets in the Landfill Directive as being one of its top priorities, and says that a number of steps can be taken, including a close monitoring of attainment levels, and in-depth analysis of Member States' strategies for biodegradable waste management, and European financial support through regional policies.


37.5 The Commission also suggest that the following actions can be taken by Member States:

—  Waste management via the "waste hierarchy"

The Commission says that, subject to specific local conditions, Member States should implement the provisions of the Waste Framework Directive and properly apply the "waste hierarchy". It notes that this approach will become legally binding on 12 December 2010, and will make a significant contribution to optimised bio-waste management.

—  Prevention of bio-waste

The Commission suggests that, in line with the "waste hierarchy", prevention should be increased, making best use of waste prevention programmes, national benchmarks, monitoring, assessment and periodical reporting, and it says that it could provide assistance by creating a framework for such activities.

—  Promotion of separate collection and biological treatment of bio-waste

The Commission believes that composting and anaerobic digestion present the best option for unpreventable bio-waste, with a good quality of input being an important pre-condition, which could in the majority of cases be best achieved by separate collection. It recommends that Member States should introduce separate collection systems as a matter of priority, whilst recognising that such systems will differ, depending upon the types of waste collected and the availability of treatment options.

—  Protecting soils

The Commission says that it is proposing minimum standards for the use of compost and digestate in agriculture by means of a revision of the Sewage Sludge Directive, which would likely be equal to, or less stringent than, the national rules already in place in some Member States, thus minimising the need to re-adjustment.

—  Compost

The Commission says that Member States should promote the production and use of compost from separately collected bio-waste, and proactively support its wide take-up by end-users, in order to improve resource efficiency and maintain soil quality.

—  Zero landfilling

The Commission notes that zero landfilling has been achieved by some Member States, and that all Member States should aim for this as soon as possible in the case of untreated bio-waste. It adds that, in seeking to minimise landfilling, other options higher in the waste hierarchy can contribute, including energy efficient incineration, provided over-investment does not have the effect of limiting subsequent biological treatment or prevention.

—  Producing energy from wastes

The Commission notes that decarbonisation of the energy sector is one of the main challenges for the EU, and that Member States should bear in mind the role of bio-waste conversion to electricity, heat or transport fuels when considering measures to meet their renewable energy targets.

The Government's view

37.6 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 14 June 2010, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Lord Henley) says that the Government welcomes this analysis, and, as it does not believe that any further legislative measures are needed in this area, it agrees with the Commission that there are no policy gaps at EU level which could prevent Member States from taking appropriate action. It is also content with the approach taken at this stage on subsidiarity, although it says that there could be issues if the Commission were to bring forward actual proposals introducing EU targets on waste prevention or on the biological treatment of bio-waste.

37.7 As regards individual aspects of the Communication, he says that the UK:

  • would welcome guidance on bio-waste prevention in relation to the national plans required under the Waste Framework Directive, which will provide clarity and help to share good practice: but it is not convinced that EU bio-waste prevention targets would be beneficial, and therefore welcomes the Commission's intention to continue to assess their appropriateness;
  • is not convinced of the benefits of an EU target on the biological treatment of bio-waste, and, since it believes that the main need is for proper enforcement of existing measures (and in particular the Landfill Directive), it welcomes the emphasis which the Commission has put on this;
  • supports the general principle of "end-of-waste" criteria, but in the case of composts and digestates, believes that national standards relating to their use are more appropriate; and
  • welcomes the suggestions made by the Commission regarding the actions to be taken by Member States, and fully intends to apply the "waste hierarchy" properly in its bio-waste management planning: in particular, it will look to promote the separate collection[153] of bio-waste where this is economically, environmentally and technical appropriate, and in the meantime it has implemented the diversion targets in the Landfill Directive and is promoting energy from waste in line with the Renewable Energy Directive.

37.8 The Minister says that the Communication was presented briefly at the Environment Council on 11 June. He adds that the Commission plans to produce an Impact Assessment by the end of the year in relation to the introduction of minimum rules for compost and digestate produced from bio-waste which does not meet "end-of-waste" criteria, but has given no indication of when it expects to conclude its other investigations and analysis.


37.9 The issue of bio-waste management was dealt with at some length by our predecessors in their Report of 29 April 2009 on the Commission's Green Paper, and to the extent that this Communication takes the issues involved a stage further, we too think it right to draw it to the attention of the House. Having said that, the document does not raise any new, or major, concerns, although, as the Government has pointed out, should the Commission eventually come forward with any proposals for setting EU-wide targets for the prevention of bio-waste or for its treatment or separate collection, it will be necessary to consider the subsidiarity implications. In the meantime, we are clearing the current document.

151   (27143) 5047/06: see HC 34-xviii (2005-06), chapter 7 (8 February 2006). Back

152   (30311) 17559/08: see HC 19-xv (2008-09), chapter 7 (29 April 2009). Back

153   The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales would see some merit in EU targets in this area. Back

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