European Commission proposes legally-binding target of recycling 65 per cent of all waste by 2030 but offers easier target to countries with lowest recycling rates.
UK households will be forced to recycle two-thirds of their rubbish while countries that recycle the least will be “let off the hook” with easier targets, under European Commission proposals.
The Government said it was “seriously concerned” about the EC’s plans, unveiled on Wednesday, to impose a legally-binding target on most EU member states of recycling 65 per cent of all household waste by 2030.
Critics say hitting the target could be extremely costly and burdensome for families and businesses alike, and could result in councils fining households that fail to recycle or issuing smaller dustbins to physically limit black bag waste.
Ministers are also understood to be worried about the EC’s proposal to let the seven EU member states that currently have the lowest recycling rates – Estonia, Greece, Croatia, Latvia, Malta, Romania and Slovakia – get away with lower targets.
They fear the plan effectively penalises the UK and other countries that have made more effort to hit the existing legally-binding target of recycling 50 per cent of waste by 2020.
The UK recycled 44 per cent of its waste in 2013 but is still in danger of missing the 2020 target, leaving it open to fines.
The seven worst-performing countries in the EU all recycled less than 20 per cent of their waste in 2013, with Romania on just 3 per cent. They will only have to recycle 60 per cent of their waste by 2030, under the plans.
Catherine Bearder, a Lib Dem MEP, said: “It is shocking that those governments not doing enough to meet current recycling targets are being let off the hook.
“All EU countries should play their part in cutting waste and preserving the planet’s precious resources.”
Photo: PRESS ASSOCIATION
The new 65 per cent recycling target for 2030 is marginally lower than a 70 per cent requirement that had been mooted last year but was withdrawn, in part due to opposition from the UK.
The Lib Dems and several green groups complained about the “watering down” of the plans.
But a spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it remained “seriously concerned over the role of waste targets and we will examine their implications for the UK”.
“We will continue working with the Commission and other Member States on this important issue as discussions begin,” he said.
In Wales, which has unilaterally set a target of 70 per cent recycling by 2025, Cardiff council has resorted to fining families £100 for failing to recycle properly and has issued smaller wheelie bins.
David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of SUEZ recycling and recovery in the UK said: “To achieve the 65 per cent level entails an as-yet-unquantifiable cost implication just when public budgets are being squeezed.
“It would however entail weekly food waste collections from every home, as food accounts for one-third of black bag rubbish.”
Richard Kirkman, technical director of waste company Veolia, said hitting the target would also require clearer information for consumers, and manufacturers to make more common products recyclable.
“There’s still a lot of public confusion regarding what can and can’t be recycled. For example only 50 per cent of plastics that can be recycled are recycled,” he said.
“Products need to be made differently. Coffee cups and crisps packets are almost impossible to recycle. Until products are made differently we won’t meet the targets.”
Waste companies have also suggested that bin men should refuse to collect black bags if they contain recyclable materials.
Dustin Benton, of the Green Alliance think tank, said: “Meeting the new recycling targets will mean reducing the complexity and fragmentation of recycling in the UK.
“Today, homes that are barely 2 miles apart can have totally different collection systems for the same materials. This confuses people, frustrates businesses that want to promote recycling, and makes collection and therefore council tax more expensive.”
He said consumers could benefit from moves to make products more durable and repairable, to try to prevent manufacturers designing products that will break soon after their warranty expires.
However he said the EC’s plans had delayed the implementation of new rules to tackle this problem.