Brussels lowers its sights

By 2020 the EU could be throwing away 120m tonnes of food. A target to cut this waste by 30% by 2025 seemed like a decent idea – so why has it been binned? Valerie Flynn reports.

A quick recap

The food waste target was part of the European Commission’s July 2014 circular economy package – a basket of proposals and regulation that would make the bloc more resource-efficient. However, the new commission argued that the plans were too focused on old-fashioned waste policies (landfill bans and sky-high recycling goals, which were unpopular with many national governments) and not sufficiently focused on preventing waste or designing products that last longer and are more readily recyclable. (For more background see Footprint 35, August 2015).

The new proposal

The redrafted package, CE2.0, isn’t quite as ambitious as many would have hoped. The omission of the 2025 food waste goal in particular was criticised. NGOs have decried the lack of a binding food waste target, but it’s worth noting that the original 2025 target was also aspirational.

The new headline policy is an aspiration to halve food waste by 2030, based on the food waste target established at UN level last year as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. The commission has also committed to developing a methodology this year for measuring food waste, which would then be used across the EU. Measuring the problem will undoubtedly help in addressing it.

Good news on redistribution

The commission also promised other measures, which could make a big difference. For instance, it will issue guidance this year aimed at facilitating food donations and the use of food chain by-products in the production of animal feed by clarifying what is permitted under the relevant EU legislation.

Next year it will “explore options for more effective use and understanding
of date marking on food” to tackle the problem of safe, edible food being discarded as a result of best-before dates being wrongly interpreted as expiry dates.

What happens next?

The commission’s proposal is only the first step of the EU’s labyrinthine legislative process. Now MEPs and member states need to negotiate their respective positions. Then a delegation from the European Parliament and a delegation representing member states will thrash out a compromise, which will become law. It’s likely to be 2017 before the two sides make it to the negotiating table.

What changes will member states be looking for?

Campaigners working on this issue say no member state is really pushing for a specific food waste target. Many believe it is important to get the measurement methodology in place first.

France looks set to be the most progressive country on food waste. It has called for more ambition than that proposed by the commission, including the introduction of measures to avoid wasting food not sold by distributors. Spain and the Netherlands may also back more ambition, but their positions are not yet clear.

The UK is not in favour of a binding target. However, a food waste (reduction) bill is gaining momentum.

What about the European Parliament?

In a non-legislative resolution last summer, the European Parliament called for a binding 30% food waste prevention target for 2025. But will it do so again in the forthcoming legislative votes, the most important of which is scheduled for early November?

“I am positive about it,” says Josu Juaristi Abaunz, a member of the parliament’s left-wing GUE-NGL political group and one of the MEPs leading work on the circular economy. “Since the arrival of the waste package review, the parliament has shown a high level of ambition.”

Other MEPs contacted by Footprint were similarly confident that the parliament’s negotiator, Simona Bonafè, will receive a mandate to push for much stronger measures on food waste when she sits down with member states’ representatives to hammer out a deal.

What if no binding target is introduced?

A handful of countries are not waiting for the EU and have already set their own food waste reduction targets, including France (50% by 2025), Sweden (20% by 2020) and Scotland (33% by 2025). Other countries, including Germany, Hungary and Ireland, are targeting agriculture sector waste as part of their waste prevention policies in an effort to tackle food waste at source.

But environmental groups and many MEPs believe widespread commitment is unlikely without a binding EU goal.

“From experience we know that when you have recycling targets at EU level, that’s the main driver at national level,” says Joan Marc Simon of Zero Waste Europe. “Without targets at EU level, countries are left to voluntary measures. It would be much more difficult.”

Valerie Flynn is an environmental journalist and former editor of ENDS Europe. She covers EU regulatory news and developments for Footprint.

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