“The zero waste society starts with production”

Interview with Stéphane Arditi, European Environmental Bureau (EEB)

Political cooperation, consumer awareness and producer responsibility in the transition to a European circular economy – these are all part of Stéphane Arditi’s brief as Products and Waste Policy Manager at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a federation of European environmental organisations. Stéphane is responsible for monitoring the development of legislation and economic instruments to support a transition towards a zero waste society. In this interview with eco@work, he explains what action Germany needs to take in this context, and discusses the draft Circular Economy Strategy unveiled by the European Commission in December 2015.

Mr Arditi, what’s your take on the Commission’s draft Strategy?
In short, it should be more ambitious. The published targets for the share of municipal waste to be recycled by 2030 are weaker than in the previous draft and are now set at 65 instead of 70 per cent. The draft looks like a political compromise rather than offering the best possible scenario that the European Commission should be working towards. I also see problems with bio-waste and landfill.

Which problems?
According to the draft, as much as 10 per cent of municipal waste can continue to go to landfill until 2030, and recyclable or compostable waste is not excluded from this figure. There are no mandatory provisions on separate collection of bio-waste; the draft merely states that this should take place where technically, environmentally and economically practicable. This leaves an awful lot of loopholes.

What about ecodesign?
Ecological design is vital for waste prevention and resource efficiency. Unfortunately, the Commission has merely summarised existing initiatives. What we need is a completely new approach that creates genuine obligations for manufacturers and requires them to increase their product transparency. And not just on a voluntary basis – a sensible approach would be to set up a database with key information on every product, covering aspects such as their reparability and the inputs used in their manufacture. This is as important for consumers as it is for the companies responsible for end-of-life product recycling.

How far have we progressed towards a circular economy in Europe?
There is considerable variation between the Member States. Of course, many countries still have very poor recycling rates, so developing a common European vision is very important in addressing that particular issue. There are models of best practice that we need to share, such as producer responsibility in France and Germany’s recycling system and exemplary approach to waste separation. But I should add that even here, I still see major challenges.

What can Germany do better?
Germany simply produces far too much waste – around twice as much per capita as the Czech Republic and Poland, for example. The German Government should step up its commitment to introducing waste prevention targets, which already exist in other European countries. It should also restrict waste incineration.

You work for a zero waste society. Is zero waste really possible?
If we believe that it is impossible, it will always be out of our reach. I see the zero waste society not as a goal but as an ongoing process which requires serious strategic management. The circular economy starts when the product, service or business model is still an idea in someone’s head. Waste is built into our product cycles, and that’s something we need to change. For example, if we no longer want to use non-recyclable plastic, then we shouldn’t be setting up incineration capacity to dispose of it.

Thank you for talking to eco@work.

The interviewer was Christiane Weihe.

Talking to eco@work: Stéphane Arditi from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).