Select Committee on European Union Forty-Seventh Report



1. The Committee's decision to undertake an inquiry[1] into EU waste policy was prompted by recent initiatives of the European Commission which aim to take a more holistic approach to waste—by seeking to prevent it through design and technology, by improving arrangements for disposal, and by managing resources in a more sustainable manner so as to reduce the impact on the environment. This report has been prepared as a contribution to the Commission's consultations. It concentrates on the policy-making processes and how it might be improved to deliver better solutions to waste prevention and management.

2. The three initiatives are:

·  A consultation exercise on strategy for the prevention and recycling of waste;[2]

·  A Communication which sets out the Commission's thinking on an integrated product policy approach[3] (see paragraph 13); and

·  A consultation exercise on strategy for the sustainable use of natural resources[4].

3. The inquiry has focused on the waste and recycling strategy. The strategy on natural resources (which has wider application) was not published until after the Committee had finished taking evidence. It is referred to only briefly in this report but is important in that it now completes the trio of Commission initiatives.

4. Lead responsibility for waste policy in England (and for UK-wide co-ordination) lies with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) leading on certain aspects which have direct impacts on industry. The Cabinet Office Strategy Unit has recently been reviewing the delivery of the Government's overall waste strategy[5]. This will provide a focus for implementing, and ideally shaping, the Commission's long-term vision.

5. In inviting evidence from witnesses the Committee posed the following questions in particular:

·  How effective are current regulatory impact assessments by the Commission in assessing the capacity for implementing waste Directives, and how can cost benefit analysis be improved in the early stages of a proposal?

·  Could the UK be more proactive in influencing the development of EU policy? Do Government departments have access to the skills required?

·  What lessons can be learned from past difficulties to improve the quality, timeliness and effectiveness of implementation?

6. The House of Commons Environmental Audit[6] and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs[7] Committees have recently examined the UK review of the Waste Strategy 2000[8]. After we had finished taking evidence, the Advisory Committee on Consumer Products and the Environment (ACPE) and the Better Regulation Task Force (BRTF) also published reports, on sustainable products[9] and implementing environmental Directives[10] respectively. The Scottish Environment and Rural Development Committee have also been conducting a review of the Scottish waste strategy in the context of EU developments. This cluster of activity within the UK serves to underline the importance of this area of policy.

7. As part of its consultation on the waste and recycling strategy[11] the Commission asked for issues "which would be of interest for the development of an extended impact assessment"[12] to be brought to its attention. We have consequently made a number of recommendations to this end.


EU waste initiatives

8. The first Community Waste Strategy[13] was published in 1989, although interest in waste had been evident at Community level from the mid-1970s, when the Commission put forward the proposals which were to become the 1975 Waste Framework Directive[14]. This Directive was intended to provide a baseline for the measures and principles by which Member States were expected to abide. Since then the European Union's approach to waste management has been based on the so-called waste management hierarchy of prevention, reuse and recycling, energy recovery and final disposal.

Waste prevention

9. Top priority under the hierarchy is given to reducing the amount of waste generated in the first place and the degree of hazard which it creates. Waste prevention is closely linked to improving product design, management and manufacturing methods and to influencing consumers' demand for more environmentally benign products and those which make less use of packaging.

Reuse and Recycling

10. If waste cannot be prevented, items should be reused or as many of the materials as possible should be recovered through recycling. The Commission has identified several specific "waste streams" for priority attention, the aim being to reduce their overall environmental impact. These include packaging waste, end-of-life vehicles, batteries, and electrical and electronic waste. EC Directives now require Member States to introduce legislation on waste collection, reuse, recycling and disposal of these waste streams.

Improving final disposal and monitoring

11. Waste that cannot be reused or recycled should in the first instance be used for energy recovery. Failing that, it should be safely disposed of. Landfill—particularly when it does not include energy recovery—is seen very much as the disposal option of last resort. The EU has recently adopted a Directive setting strict guidelines for landfill management[15] (see paragraphs 26-29). It bans certain types of waste altogether and sets targets for progressively reducing levels of biodegradable material which goes to landfill (to reduce production of methane). Another recent Directive lays down tough limits on emission levels from incinerators[16]. Both Directives were the subject of reports by our Committee when they were in draft[17].

12. The Sixth EC Environment Action Programme, published in 2000, provides the environment component of the Community sustainable development strategy[18]. It highlights areas of policy for urgent action and proposes a series of thematic strategies. Currently the Commission is consulting on two waste-related strategies—on the prevention and recycling of waste and on the sustainable use of natural resources. The waste and recycling strategy was the first to emerge,[19] and aims to consolidate existing EU waste policy and introduce new approaches. As its title suggests, it specifically deals with waste and recycling, the basis of which is to be comprehensive cost-benefit analysis to identify where recycling could be most socially beneficial, together with economic instruments to provide market stimulus. Waste prevention is also an important theme of the strategy, but specific proposals on how to achieve it have yet to emerge. Over time it is intended to focus on areas linked to the priority issues identified by the resources strategy. The strategy on natural resources will focus on understanding and mapping the links between the use of resources and their environmental impacts, in order to identify where action is needed. These strategies are not being developed in isolation, and a number of legislative instruments relating to products have recently been agreed and are now being transposed.

13. The Commission's recent Communication on Integrated Product Policy provides a toolkit of instruments that can be applied to reduce the environmental impact of a product throughout its lifecycle. The tools for promoting the environmental improvements include economic instruments (e.g. taxes and subsidies which reflect environmental impacts), voluntary agreements, and public procurement measures. The emphasis is on co-operation with industry using voluntary approaches, although if necessary legislative measures will be considered. The provision of information to consumers is another important factor, to enable them to make informed decisions through the use of environmental labelling.

14. This inquiry has focused on the processes of policy-making in the context of the themes set out in the waste and recycling strategy.

1   The inquiry was carried out by Sub­Committee D (Environment, Agriculture, Public Health and Consumer Protection), whose members are listed in Appendix 1. The specialist adviser was Dr Jane Powell, University of East Anglia, CSERGE Back

2   Communication: towards a thematic strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste (COM(2003) 301 final) Back

3   Communication: Integrated Product Policy (COM(2003) 302 final) Back

4   Communication: Towards a thematic strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources (COM(2003) 572 final) Back

5   Waste Not Want Not: A Strategy for Tackling the Waste Problem in England, November 2002, Strategy Unit Back

6   Environmental Audit Committee, 5th Report (2002-03): Waste - An Audit (HC 99) Back

7   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, 8th Report (2002-03): The Future of Waste Management (HC 385) Back

8   DETR, Waste Strategy 2000, Cm 4693, May 2000 Back

9   Towards Sustainable Products, the advisory committee on consumer products and the environment, 2003 Back

10   Environmental Regulation: getting the message across, Better Regulation Task Force, July 2003 Back

11 Back

12   Extended impact assessment is discussed in paragraphs 63 and 64 below Back

13   A Community Strategy for Waste management (SEC (89) 934) Back

14   Council Directive 1975/442/EC, OJ L194 (25 July 1975) p 39 Back

15   Council Directive 1999/31/EC on the Landfilling of Waste Back

16   Council Directive 2000/76/EC on the Incineration of Waste Back

17   European Communities Committee, 17th Report (1997-98): Sustainable Landfill (HL 83); European Communities Committee, 11th Report (1998-99): Waste Incineration (HL 71) Back

18   Environment 2010: Our future, our choice (COM(2001) 31) Back

19   Communication: Towards a thematic strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste (COM(2003) 301 final) Back

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