EU countries need better recycling, Copenhagen agency finds

EU countries need to adopt policies to boost recycling, to help tackle growing waste, particularly from plastic and electronics, according to two reports by the European Environment Agency (EEA) published Monday.

EU countries need better recycling, Copenhagen agency finds
Plastic recycling in Switzerland. Photo: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

“The EU must find circular and climate-friendly ways of managing its plastic waste e.g. by increasing reuse and recycling,” the EEA said in a statement.

The European body, headquartered in Copenhagen, said the EU produced 30 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2015, of which only 17 percent was collected for recycling.

Conversely in 2017, demand for plastic in the 28 EU countries, Switzerland and Norway, amounted to 51 million tonnes — mainly for use in packaging and construction.

Annual global plastic production is also expected to double by 2035, and almost quadruple by 2050, and European countries lack the capacity to manage the growing amount of plastic waste in sustainable ways, one of the reports concluded.

“Poor management of plastic waste has negative environmental and climate effects, such as deposits of plastic and microplastics appearing on land and in rivers and oceans worldwide,” the agency stated.

In early 2019 the EU exported 150,000 tonnes of plastic waste every month, since European countries typically don't sort and recycle enough of this waste. 

The figure was twice as high in 2016, when exports went mainly to China and Hong Kong, but restrictions on waste import has lead to a decrease and a shift of exports to other Asian countries with less strict regulations.

When it comes to electronics, of 10.3 million tonnes of waste produced in 2015, 40 percent was collected, the agency said.

Many electronic products include hazardous materials and chemicals that pose risk to both health and the environment.

The EEA also noted that “high-quality recycling” can help to limit the impact on climate, citing a 2016 Norwegian study that found that the recycling of a single mobile phone saved the equivalent of one kilogram of CO2 emissions.

READ ALSO: European cities to take tips from Oslo on cutting out plastic

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‘We still have a chance’: Danish minister’s relief after Glasgow climate deal

Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen has expressed relief that a meaningful climate change deal was struck in Glasgow last night, after a last minute move by India and China nearly knocked it off course.

'We still have a chance': Danish minister's relief after Glasgow climate deal
Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen speaks at the announcement of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance in Glasgow on Tuesday. Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

“For the first time ever, coal and fossil fuel subsidies have been mentioned. I’m very, very happy about that,” he told Denmark’s Politiken newspaper. “But I am also very disappointed that the stronger formulations were removed at the last minute.” 

Late on Saturday, the world’s countries agreed the Glasgow Climate Pact, after negotiations dragged on while governments haggled over phasing out coal. 

Denmark is one of the countries leading the phase out of fossil fuels, formally launching the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) with ten other countries and states at the Glasgow summit on Tuesday, announcing an end to oil exploration last December, and committing to phase out coal by 2030 back in 2017. 

Jørgensen conceded that the deal struck on Saturday was nowhere near far-reaching enough to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C, which scientists have estimated is critical to limiting the impacts of climate change, but he said the decision to hold another summit in Egypt next year meant that this goal could still be reached. 

“The big, good news is that we could have closed the door today. If we had followed the rules, we would only have had to update the climate plans in 2025, and the updates would only apply from 2030,” he said, adding that this would be too late. “Now we can fight on as early as next year. This is very rare under the auspices of the UN.” 

Limiting temperature rises to 1.5C was still possible, he said. 

“We have a chance. The framework is in place to make the right decisions. There was a risk that that framework would not be there.” 

Jørgensen said that he had come close to tears when India launched a last-minute bid to water down the language when it came to coal, putting the entire deal at risk. 

“It was all really about to fall to the ground,” he said. “The assessment was that either the Indians got that concession or there was no agreement.” 

Sebastian Mernild, a climate researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, said he was disappointed by the lack of binding targets and global deadlines in the plan, but said it was nonetheless “a step in the right direction”, particularly the requirement that signatories to the Paris Agreement must tighten their 2030 emissions reduction targets by the end of 2022.

“It’s good that this thing with fossil fuels has got in,” he added. “It’s a pity that you don’t have to phase them out, but only reduce.”

He said the test of whether the Glasgow meeting is a success or failure would not come until the various aspects of the plan are approved and implemented by members states.