The European legislation on waste has recently been revised in 2008 through the issuing of the Directive 2008/98/CE.
The declared aim of the Directive 2008/98/CE is that of helping the European Union to come closer to a "recycling society" trying to avoid the production of waste and to use waste as a resource. The directive represents a turning point because it switches from a management of waste which mostly deals with its treatment and safe management for public health and the environment, to the exploitation of the natural resources contained in it.
The new Directive requires a hierarchy in the planning and management of waste which includes, in order:
2. preparation for re-use;
4. recovery of other kinds;
The hierarchy is set according to the environmental cost (ascending) and allows a degree of flexibility, since it is permitted to deviate from this hierarchy in the event that it can be shown that a solution at a lower level is more convenient for the safeguard of the environment.
The directive intervenes on a fundamental aspect, that of the determining of the waste status: besides the now classic definition, according to which waste means any substance or object which the holder discards or intends to discard or is required to discard, the conditions are specified under which goods become or cease to be waste and are considered by-products or secondary raw / recycled material.
Furthermore, the existence of certain European requirements on safety and the quality of recovered materials favours the placement on the market of secondary raw materials and also contributes to removing biases and prejudices that may impede the opening of these materials and of products made with these recycled materials.
The most innovative element of the European legislation regarding waste is given by the definition of objectives and relative deadlines within which these should be achieved. In fact, in this way it will be possible to measure the quality of the policies deliberated by each state and, in the case of failure to achieve the objectives, it will be more difficult to avoid any sanctions in the case of non-fulfilment.
The objectives to be achieved are the following:
1. by 2020, the preparation for re-use / recycling shall be increased to a minimum of overall 50% by weight for the following waste: paper, metal, plastic and glass from households, and possibly from other origins (as far as these waste streams are similar to waste from households);
2. by 2020, the preparation for re-use / recycling and other material recovery, including backfilling operations using waste to substitute other materials, shall be increased to a minimum of 70% by weight for non-hazardous construction and demolition waste.
Article 8 of the framework directive on waste invites the Member States to introduce extended producer responsibility, which implies that any natural or legal person who professionally develops, manufactures, processes, treats, sells or imports products, must assume responsibility for the management of the waste in the post-consumer phase, also in the event that use has been made by a different subject.
This model of responsibility stimulates the commercialization of products that are more easily recoverable, encouraging in this way the development of new technologies for the planning (eco-design) and creation of goods and services with these properties, as well as more advanced methods of waste recovery.
Lastly, an additional new element is given by the determination of the minimum requirements for the recognition of energy recovery: by now it is no longer sufficient to transform part of the thermal energy produced by combustion into power for it to qualify as energy recovery, but it is necessary to ensure the attainment of a minimum energy efficiency factor, which varies depending on the construction date of the plant.
On the Italian front, the adoption of the Community Directive (Legislative Decree No. 205 dd. December 3rd 2010) and the identification of minimum targets for separate collection (set by Legislative Decree No. 152/2006 and by Law No. 296 dd. December 27th 2006), have outlined a strong regulatory framework for the implementation and development of proper waste management. This framework was then further integrated with measures regarding individual categories of waste (for example the Ministerial Decree No. 65/201018 on the treatment of WEEE).
A further boost to the industrial development of the waste management sector could be given by the future liberalization of the public services market (Presidential Decree 168/2010), starting from 31.12.2011 and should combine the necessary environmental requirements together with an adequate transparency and competitiveness in the sector.