In the dock over EU 2020 recycling targets
Cyprus has been warned by the European Commission that it is failing the EU’s 2020 recycling targets for municipal waste, with experts blaming 20 years of ineffective state policies.
While the recycling target set for EU members states for municipal waste for 2020 is set to 50%, according to Eurostat data for 2016, Cyprus’ municipal waste recycling rate was 17% while the landfilling rate was 75%.
The target for 2020 is for 50% of municipal waste to be recycled, rising to 65% by 2035, while the percentage of municipal waste finding its way to landfills should drop to 10%. The amount of rubbish heading to landfills has dropped in the EU as a whole, standing at 24%.
Cyprus joins Malta, Romania and Greece as one of only four EU member states to have recycled under 20% of their total municipal waste, while experts argue that failure to meet EU 2020 is more than a certainty, and “meeting the EU 2035 goal seems like a longshot”.
It is also failing in its recycling goals regarding construction and demolition, and waste from electrical and electronic equipment.
The 2020 target for the construction sector is for 70% to be recycled, with over half of EU states reporting they already do. Cyprus however, reported that less than 60% was recycled for the period 2013-15.
As far as electrical and electronic equipment waste is concerned, the EU had set a target in 2015 to collect a minimum of 4kg of waste per person, a target which according to Brussels, Cyprus missed by a “considerable margin”. Countries such as Denmark and Sweden collected as much as 12kg of waste per person.
The Commission in its early warning report for Cyprus concluded that the island’s continued difficulties in implementing EU waste laws are mainly due to the lack of infrastructure and collection systems for recyclables and monitoring of the procedure.
It also pointed out that there is a lack of incentives to prevent the creation of waste in the first place, and to improve recycling.
Experts attribute the lack of infrastructure and failure of monitoring collection systems for recyclables, to the fact that Cypriot governments over the past two decades preferred to follow a road different to what the EU regulations and instructions had paved.
Charalambos Theopemptou told the Financial Mirror that Cyprus’ failure to comply with EU targets stems from the persistence of governments for 20 years to ignore EU instructions and form their own policy on waste management.
“It is indicative that from 2011, until very recently the responsibility of forming a policy to manage recyclable waste was with the ministry of Interior,” said Theopemptou.
“Whereas EU instructions state clearly that the member states should form a policy which will promote the separation of waste and recyclables at the source, that is the household or business, governments thought that it would be best to pursue a policy which would see the separation of waste at waste processing factory units,” he added.
He explained that the EU policy is based on the idea that the best waste separation takes place at the source by the consumer.
“As a result of this policy, people in areas who have their recyclables transferred to the factories in Koshi in Larnaca and Pentakomo in the Limassol region do not know how to separate their waste and send everything off to the units. What happens is that these factories at the end of the day are not able to use much of the materials,” the MP said.
He explained that organic waste which is separated at the units is then sent to organic waste processing unit run by Vassiliko Cements, which is not able to process the waste as it is of low quality.
Theopemptou also said that the policy followed by the administrations of the past and the current one, is also undermining any efforts made in the direction of complying with EU directives.
He said that according to EC directive 98/2008, which was adopted by Cypriot Law, companies who put plastic packaging into the market, have the responsibility to collect and recycle them or assign that responsibility to another entity. “That is how Green Dot came into being. Companies putting plastic packages into the market came together and formed the company and gave it the responsibility to collect and recycle plastic packages.”
Private investors of the recycling units in Koshi and Pentakomo, are collecting plastic packages and selling the end product, leaving Green Dot without resources to be able to function as it would want to.
“Green Dot is also lagging behind when it comes to campaigns to raise public awareness. One of the reason for this is the lack of resources,” said Theopemptou.
He added that the government should also be chasing after companies who have not joined the Green Dot venture.
Green Dot’s General Manager, Marios Vrahimis, confirmed that a large number of companies supplying products in plastic packages to the market are not complying with their legal obligation to contribute to the collection and recycling of plastic packaging.
Vrahimis said that taking into consideration the amount of plastic packaging supplied to the market by Green Dot member-companies, it is collecting almost 90% of that plastic packaging.
“While the total amount of plastic packages supplied to the market by our companies amounts to about 66,000 tonnes, we collect and recycle around 60,000 tonnes every year. Unfortunately, we calculate that a total of 100,000 tonnes of plastic packaging finds its way to the market, which brings our success rate down”.
Green Dot’s manager suggests that the government forces companies not participating in the venture to join, by identifying the companies who import plastic packaging through the ports.
Theopemptou said that the same obligation applies companies supplying the market with products in paper packaging or other paper-based products newspapers and magazines.
“Unfortunately, these companies have yet to conform. The government should be chasing after these companies to force them to follow the footsteps of Green Dot and form a company to collect and manage paper waste from their products”.
The number one obligation deriving from EU directives is for member states to take measures to prevent the creation of waste.
Theopemptou, a former Environment Commissioner, argued that a national policy was drawn up in 2008 but has never been implemented.
“EU Directives are also clear that member states need to promote the reusing of plastic products. We have done nothing on this as a country,” he said.
“The game is lost! There is no way for us to meet our EU 2020 targets. I doubt if we will be able to meet most of 2030 targets!”
Asked on what can be done, Theopemptou said that drastic measures need to be taken, such as promoting the separation of waste at the source and fines to households and business who do not comply.
Current Environment Commissioner, Ioanna Panayiotou, told the Financial Mirror that the state, through the competent Ministry of Agriculture and Environment, has drawn up a roadmap for the country to meet its EU 2020 recycling targets.
However, she said there is still a long way ahead and political decisions for drastic measures are required.
“Unfortunately, the state has not been able to act decisively over the past decades. We hope now that the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment has taken over the management of house waste, it will take the decisive measures needed for Cyprus to meet its goals,” Panayiotou said.
She added that the European Commission in its warning report has suggested a series of measures that Cyprus needs to take.
“The state needs to support the municipalities in their task with the development of a system at a national level that provides technical support, coupled with active sharing of good ideas and practices that can improve efficiency in terms of cost reduction and improvement in performance”.
Brussels has underlined the importance of involving the public in the process with financial incentives and penalties for those who do not comply, such as the “pay as you throw scheme”, applied in a number of EU countries.