Waste management control in the European Union (EU) is one of the essential policies outlined by the EU to support sustainable development in the European society. The European economy still waste a lot of resources even though there are lots of measures put in place to avoid wasting resources which can be recycled and reused in the economy. Based on statistics, over 2 billion tonnes of waste are generated in the European community each year,200 million tonnes of which is municipal waste (Hansen et al.,2002, p. 3). The amount of waste produced in Europe has increased tremendously when compared to previous years. The challenge for European Commission and the Union in general, is how it can design an effective waste management policy which will be effective in all member states and the planet in general.
2. Intensity of the issue
Turning waste into useful resources to promote a “circular economy” is one of the main aim of the European Commission. However, the amount of waste produced per individual is enormous and potential secondary raw materials are lost. Referring to household waste alone, only 40% is reused in some specific countries whereas the rest goes to land refill (Environmental Data Centre on Waste, Eurostat). Land refills on the other hand are becoming increasingly full and are releasing harmful and explosive gases in the atmosphere (Hansen et al.,2002, p.3). Correspondingly, problems arising from this sector does not only causes effect on a particular sector in the Eurozone, but rather is an essential thematic which has to analysed focusing on different aspects in the society.
It is imperative to note that the issue of waste is closely linked to other aspects including consumption, lifestyle, income, and other socio-economic and cultural factors (Hansen et al.,2002, p.3). Allocating all resources and focus on disposing off waste would not solve the problem of waste but rather intensify the rate at which the consumption and mannerism towards waste would be indifferent. Therefore, waste management as hinted in the previous paragraphs must be handled in the larger arena of socio-economic development and resource management (Hansen et al.,2002, p.3). Preventive measures on the other hand are the most essential aspects of waste management. Most of the environmental problems on the other hand are seen in different context and the approaches towards it are
tackled without having closer look at consumption, lifestyle, income, and other socio-
economic and cultural factors.
3. Re-evaluation of policies
The European Union (EU) has set specific targets and strategies to waste management control. Dealing with the issue of waste from the supra national level, the EU has been able to process policies within its member states.
The main approach of the EU towards waste management is based on a “Waste Hierarchy”. This hierarchy “establishes preferred program priorities based on sustainability through the following steps: prevention, (preparing for) reuse, recycling, recovery and, as the least preferred option, disposal: which includes landfilling and incineration without energy recovery (Hansen et al.,2002, p.3).
Figure 1: Waste Hierarchy
Source: European Commision,2008/98/EC
This approach to waste management focuses on changing behavior and using less material because what is not produced can certainly not be disposed off. On the other hand, considering the gravity of the issue on waste, it is however noticeable how this approach lacks the practical aspect in fulfilling the best expected result. Respectively, the “Waste Framework Directive” which sets out the general framework for waste management under the Commission are required to develop coherent waste management set strategic goals and targets which outlines a more detailed and practical regional and local plans (Hansen et al., 2002, p. 5-7).
Transitioning into to a “circular economy” is one important aspect for the EU to achieve the 2030 agenda drafted to secure a sustainable development in the economy. A “circular
economy is where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible, and the generation of waste minimised” (European Commission, 2018, p. 1). To ensure this ´circular economy’, the European Commission (EC) as stated in their policies plans to establish an “effective monitoring framework” to strengthen monitoring processes concerning a circular economy without increasing administrative burdens (European Commission, 2018, p. 1).
This policy can be analysed as a tool developed to observe the efficiency of resources and to monitor the lifespan of resources. In this context, waste will be reused and recycle repeatedly to minimise wasting potential resources. The inclusion of other EU member states to achieve the 2010 agenda is a very essential aspect of this policy.
Furthermore, “EU municipal waste generation per capita has dropped by 8 % between 2006 and 2016 to an average of 480 kg per capita per year through clear individual contribution” (European Commission, 2018, p. 6). Nevertheless, it is very noticeable through statistics how their contribution to deploy a circular economy differs. There are large “variations among Member States observed, that is between 250 and 750 kg per capita per year” and municipal waste generation is still growing in several Member States (European Commission, 2018, p. 6). This is to show that, while some member states are keen to control consumption behaviour and the attitude towards waste by outlining drastic measures, others are not able to obey these policies because of different economic situations and current waste management policies. The “monitoring framework” as instigated by the commission as a tool to observe and accompany the efficiency of resources which was established years ago does not seem to include strong sanctions or fees for member states who fail or neglect to reach the preferred rate of reducing waste per capita. Taking a closer look at the problem of plastic for instance, “Consumption levels of plastic carrier bags vary
considerably across the Union due to differences in consumption habits, environmental awareness and effectiveness of policy measures taken by Member States (e.g. Germany) who have managed to strategically reduce the consumption behaviours” ( Irimia et al.,2016). Therefore, it is questionable how the observance and monitoring system operate in the EU.
Correspondingly, ´waste crimes´ has risen tremendously because of several weak policies which are not implemented or obeyed in several member states. “So, with the development
of a Europe where resource consumption continues to grow, but which recognizes that effective waste management can return some of these resources back into the economic cycle, waste has become a global commodity, often traded across boundaries within Europe and beyond” (Baird et al., 2014, p. 97). Such crimes are only disclosed by closed people working the sector and as such are not documented. Even though these crimes are not documented, it can be traced to different EU member states engaging in exporting waste to other countries.
According to research, environmental crime is not a new phenomenon but rather a serious and emergent international issue which includes different problematic dimensions (Baird et al., 2014, p. 97). Again, “in a study of environmental crime in southwest Germany, it was reported that 65% of all environmental crime related to illegal activities was associated with waste, whereas Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in their annual enforcement reports, show that waste related crime, statutory notices, and final warning letters represent around half of all enforcement measures” (Baird et al., 2014, p. 98).
This crime includes the exportation of dangerous waste which can as well be processed and reused again within the EU. This type of crime surprisingly has not attracted a lot of juridical sanctions which could help control boarders and control the illegal trade of waste. A study conducted proved an organised waste crime in Italy proved that weak legislation enforcement can even stimulate evasion (Baird et al.,2014). Correspondingly, there should be an emergence of institutions checking and balancing rules and policies which govern these sectors.
Considering how severe and serious environmental crimes can pose a threat to the planet and human life in general is one aspect which must be critically observed. Waste management control does not have to be successful by being blind to all these illegal processes surrounding it. If waste becomes a global commodity because can be “created, stored, treated, and disposed anywhere, and combined with asymmetries in regulation and enforcement between countries, it will create the opportunity for waste to flow to developing countries, which may lack the regulatory mechanisms to protect themselves from the illegal import of waste” (Baird et al., 2014, p. 99).
4. Policy Recommendations
Environmental problems affect each person in the society. As it was mentioned earlier on,
preventive methods are the desired approach to enforce a quality waste management system. A consumer related policy is an essential method to ensure a sustainable development in the Euro zone. Food waste for example can be reduced by producing less for consumers to readjust their behaviour towards consumption of goods. Correspondingly, regional goods must be supported more so that consumers will be content with what is being provided by the regional market and not just import everything just for comfortability.
Furthermore, raw materials should also be very expensive so that it will make sense to produce new things from the waste rather than from its original state. For example, it is very affordable to produce aluminium than to recycle it. In other words, waste must be made more valuable than its recycling.
Again, the success of waste management systems will also rely on an “effective horizontal co-operation between local authorities (municipalities) and a vertical cooperation between different levels of authorities like local – regional and where beneficial also national” (Hansen et al., 2002, p. 6). This cooperation should also include providing the municipalities with current data concerning setbacks and successes of current strategies.
If policies outlined are supposed to make a difference, it is very essential to create awareness to the people by informing them about how individual participation in waste control is necessary. Additionally, “The public needs to contribute to meet the targets of the different directives by e.g. preventing and reusing waste, or by sorting packaging waste as well as other waste streams like biodegradable or hazardous household waste” (Hansen et al., 2002, p. 7). Including waste management strategies in school curriculums will help groom the youth on how to be conscious about consumption practices. It is also important to note that, attaining a successful proper waste management will include the provision of information, discussion and participation of stakeholders, industries, trade unions and particularly households (Hansen et al., 2002).
Furthermore, generating the appropriate funding and resources needed for waste management is a vital aspect of creating an effective and proper waste management. It is apparent that financing is often a limiting factor in ensuring a quality waste management, an economically viable financing system (e.g. employing incentives and other mechanisms) must be installed to reach goals (Hansen et al., 2002, p. 7). Therefore, fines of non-abiding
people or pollutants should be set up in other to guarantee the seriousness of the issue at hand.
In this policy brief we have discussed that even though the EU and the Commission have advanced in their policies concerning waste management, there are still some gaps in these polices that need to be reanalyzed and evaluated. It is then important to take into the consideration the arguments raised against the incoherent policies which does not provide a practical application towards the issue at hand. As the aim of the Commission is to make sure that policies laid down are implemented by every member state at its maximum best, they are obliged to set up a medium which will accommodate a proper monitoring process. Again, if we want policies to function in the Euro Zone, it is vital to ensure that individual participation and awareness Is not overlooked. A successful waste management is then and only possible if we consider all our weaknesses hindering our goals and aims are eliminated and possibly solved to its maximum best.