Revealed: leaders and laggards of EU waste policy

Electronic devices components waiting to be recycled in a container, on a recycling plant site. Pile of sorted electronic garbage.

EU countries obstructing measures that would bring the EU closer to a circular economy are revealed – and they are not your usual suspects.

NGOs led by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Friends of the Earth Europe and Zero Waste Europe asked member states whether they will support proposals to boost EU waste policy in the negotiations taking place in Brussels in the coming weeks.

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The proposals, already approved by the European Parliament in March, [1] include higher recycling targets for municipal solid waste; targets for preparation for reuse of municipal solid waste and reuse of packaging; better separate collection of all waste streams, including biowaste; EU-wide rules for producer responsibility; and objectives to reduce waste generation by 2030.

The investigation shows that the ambitious reform of EU waste laws is under attack by a number of countries. If a regressive position is to prevail in the negotiations, plans to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in the coming years will most likely stall.

Recent leaks of the Council’s current common position show that the laggards are winning out, despite higher individual ambition by some member states in areas including recycling targets, extended producer responsibility and biowaste separate collection. [2]

At stake is the creation of over 800,000 jobs, one in ten coming from reuse, and €72 billion a year in savings across Europe. EU countries would also miss the opportunity to avoid over 420 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, which equates to taking 4 in 10 cars off European roads. [3]


Countries opposing most of the proposals include Denmark and Finland–often regarded as leaders in waste policy despite their enormous amount of waste generated. Other countries set to categorically reject higher ambition are Hungary, Lithuania and Latvia.

While eventually supporting a 65% recycling target, countries such as the Czech Republic, Italy, Sweden, Portugal and Luxembourg are expected to oppose plans to make preparation for reuse mandatory, set a 10% target for packaging reuse and set waste prevention targets–all top priorities in a circular economy.

The UK, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Slovenia and Croatia have so far been unwilling to share their position, highlighting a long-standing transparency problem during negotiations between member states, as well as member states and EU institutions. This creates barriers between EU citizens and their national governments, and is at odds with the progressive and transparent stance adopted by the European Parliament.


On the other hand, southern countries that generally struggle with waste management such as Greece and Romania as well as Spain are calling for stronger support for recycling, waste prevention, preparation for reuse and better separate collection.

Other progressive countries supporting the reforms are France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Piotr Barczak, waste policy officer at the EEB, said:

We hear every day that governments are committed to reducing waste in order to reap the benefits of the circular economy. But what happens in the negotiations, behind closed doors, is sometimes a completely different story.”

Without higher targets for recycling and binding measures for prevention, which would inject confidence into the market, governments will struggle to find the investment opportunities necessary to trigger the transition to a circular economy. Providing long term ambition and binding requirements is what drives change.”

Next steps

  • High representatives from member states will meet before the end of the month to define the position of the Council of the European Union.
  • By the end of May, all three EU institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union – will enter the final inter-institutional negotiations before agreeing on the final text of the new waste laws.

Notes to editors

[1] European Parliament votes to strengthen waste laws to support circular economy

[2] Council text lowers recycling targets for metals, glass and paper

[3] Advancing resource efficiency in Europe

The proposals being discussed are part of three main EU directives: the Waste Directive, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and Landfill Directives.

It is estimated that a full transition to a circular economy, beyond the proposals currently being discussed in Brussels, could generate savings of about €2 trillion by 2030. This equals a 7% increase in EU GDP; 11% increase in households purchasing power; and 3 million extra jobs.

For more information:

Mauro Anastasio, Communications Officer, European Environmental Bureau

+32 2 274 10 87

Revealed: leaders and laggards of EU waste policy
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