In our LawNow of 14th July 2014 we referred to an EU Communication on 2nd July 2014 entitled “Towards a circular economy: A zero waste programme for Europe”.  Along with this Communication the EU Commission published a draft Directive which if implemented would significantly amend several existing waste management Directives, namely the Waste Framework Directive (2008), Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (1994), Landfill Directive (1999), End of Life Vehicles Directive (2000), Waste Batteries and Accumulators Directive (2006) and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (2012). In this LawNow we highlight some of the key aspects which are highly relevant to the commercial and infrastructure future of the waste management sector. 

In a nutshell

If the legislative intentions are carried out:

  • The waste hierarchy will be relaunched in a hugely muscular form
  • Reuse and recycling (and hence related infrastructure) could have a glorious future
  • There will be very little future for landfill
  • Energy from waste will continue as a junior partner but in practical terms its exact role remains unclear

Why change?

In truth the concepts of waste management have not changed in the proposed legal revision. Instead it is the desire to force the pace of implementation of the waste hierarchy that has changed. The aim is to force waste management away from the bottom rungs of landfill and recovery, into the top rungs of reuse and recycling.

Under the nomenclature of a “Circular Economy”, (i.e. in this context that waste materials should be returned to the economy for further use), the desire is to break from the historic  lineal line type economy of virgin materials manufactured into goods to be used (effectively once) and then discarded to landfill (or recovered – see below). Of course this is by no means a new concept and has been part of modern waste management aspirations for decades. Indeed it is fundamental to the waste hierarchy which has been part of EU waste management law for many years.

What has happened is that following many studies over several years, involving many disciplines, the justifications for a circular economy have been expanded and much better articulated and supported. They include issues surrounding security of supply of raw materials, creation of (non-exportable) employment (an estimate being the creation of over 500,000  new jobs in the EU if current waste laws and the proposed new Directive are properly enforced), stimulating innovation and technology, riding the back of the very successful green businesses sector, generating significant net savings for EU business (estimated at up to Euros 600 billion), reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (by approximately 2-4%) and generally resulting in more decoupling of economic development from environment degradation.


Several mechanisms are to be employed to achieve the goals of moving the vast bulk of waste management up the waste hierarchy into reuse and recycling. To understand the full picture these need to be looked at individually and as a whole. These include measures relating to:

  • Preventing waste arising including more emphasis on eco-design of products
  • Landfill diversion and landfill bans (see further below)
  • Municipal waste provisions (see further below)
  • Packaging waste provisions (see further below)
  • Further work in relation to particular waste streams (food, plastics, construction and demolition, critical materials, phosphorus and hazardous wastes)
  • “Appraisals” of Member State performance (appraisal is our term rather than a term referred to in the draft Directive but essentially the EU Commission has learnt lessons from poor implementation of existing waste Directive and feels that it needs the ability to spot and intervene early with those Member States who are unlikely to fulfil their obligations).
  • Further work on some areas including analysis of market barriers to the take up of recycling and recyclate.

Landfill Diversion and Landfill Bans

Below is a table which sets out what is intended. Note from a legal perspective the language used in the draft Directive itself is not always consistent with the related Communication and other documents from the EU Commission. Particularly with regard to the terminology used in connection with how much waste is to be landfilled, this is something which ought to be clarified in the legislative process. 

Click here to view table.

Municipal Waste

The following are the proposed municipal waste targets for the recycling or preparing for reuse:

Click here to view table.

Packaging waste

The following are proposed overall packaging waste targets, and targets for specific packaging waste streams.

Click here to view tables.

Food waste

The following is a current aspirational target in respect of food waste.

Click here to view table.


Of course at this stage these are merely legislative proposals. They will need to go through the EU legislative process. Whether they survive the legislative process and, if so in what terms, remains to be seen. Indeed the Czech and Maltese governments have already raised objections.

However in the meantime it seems to us to be reasonably clear how the EU Commission intends the waste management sector to develop over the next 10 - 15 years. This in itself is notable. In many parts of the EU there is a very clear need for considerable development in existing and new waste infrastructure. There is also plenty of work in progress to look forward to including in respect of particular waste streams (for instance food and plastics), and in respect of addressing barriers (including market barriers) to greater uptake of reuse and recyclate.

The position in respect of energy from waste is interesting albeit surrounded with a few dark clouds and we will address this in a subsequent LawNow.