Brussels, 18 May 2010

Environment: New Commission strategy aims to get even more from bio-waste

The European Commission today laid out steps to improve the management of bio-waste in the EU and tap into its significant environmental and economic benefits. Bio-degradable garden, kitchen and food waste accounts for 88 million tonnes of municipal waste each year and has major potential impacts on the environment. But it also has considerable promise as a renewable source of energy and recycled materials. Today’s Communication promotes actions to unlock this potential by making the best use of existing legislation while giving Member States discretion to choose the options best suited to their individual circumstances. Supporting initiatives at EU level will also be necessary.

Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik said: "We already have a significant body of legislation governing bio-waste in the EU. But through better implemention and enforcement, we can squeeze even more benefit from bio-waste. This will not only help in the fight against climate change: producing good quality compost and biogas will contribute to healthy soil and slow biodiversity loss."

Bio-waste – an untapped potential

A Commission assessment has identified significant environmental and economic benefits from improved management of bio-waste in the European Union.

Today’s Communication lays out recommendations on the way forward to reap these benefits in full. The most promising approaches include the prevention of bio-waste and biological treatment with the production of compost and biogas.

The main environmental threat from bio-waste is the production of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. If biological treatment of waste was maximized, the most visible and significant benefit would be avoided greenhouse gas emissions – estimated at around 10 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2020.

About one-third of the EU's 2020 target for renewable energy in transport could be met by using biogas produced from bio-waste, while around 2% of the EU's overall renewable energy target could be met if all bio-waste was turned into energy.

Good quality compost and digestate from anaerobic digestion would improve resource-efficiency by partially replacing non-renewable mineral fertilizers as well as by maintaining the quality of EU soils.

Full implementation of existing policies supported by improved bio-waste management should deliver environmental and economic benefits estimated at between €1.5 and €7 billion, depending on the ambition of recycling and prevention policies.

Priority actions

According to the Commission's analysis there are no policy gaps at EU level that could prevent Member States from taking appropriate action. Progress achieved in several Member States shows that existing waste legislation is an excellent basis for advanced bio-waste management. For this, the available tools need to be used to their full potential and rigorously enforced where necessary in all Member States.

Priority actions include rigorous enforcement of the targets on diverting bio-waste away from landfills, proper application of the waste hierarchy and other provisions of the Waste Framework Directive to introduce separate collection systems as a matter of priority.

Supporting initiatives at EU level – such as developing standards for compost – will be crucial to accelerate progress and ensure a level playing field across the EU. This will involve specific guidance and indicators for bio-waste prevention with possible future binding targets, as well as compost standards and guidelines on the application of life cycle thinking and assessment in the waste sector.

Bio-waste management in the Member States

Member States have vastly diverging national policies for bio-waste management, ranging from little action in some Member States to ambitious policies in others.

The environmental and economic benefits of different treatment methods for bio-waste depend on local conditions such as population density, climate and infrastructure.

Composting and anaerobic digestion offer the most promising environmental and economic options for bio-waste that cannot be prevented. However, an important pre-condition is good quality input to these processes. In the majority of cases this would be best achieved by separate collection of bio-waste.

Highly efficient systems based on separating various streams of bio-waste already exist in Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Cataluña in Spain and certain regions in Italy.

The Communication on bio-waste is available at: