EU proposes new recycling and landfill targets

tractor on a landfill site Print publication


On 2 July the EU Commission published a number of documents aimed at moving the EU towards a circular economy. A circular economy virtually eliminates waste by retaining resources within the economy when a product has reached the end of its life, so that they remain in productive use and create further value.

Part of the package is a proposal for a new Directive amending six existing EU waste directives: Directive 2008/98/EC on waste (the Waste Framework Directive, or WFD); Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste (the Packaging Directive); Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste (the Landfill Directive); Directive 2000/53/EC on end-of-life vehicles; Directive 2006/66/EC on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators; and Directive 2012/19/EU on waste electrical and electronic equipment.

This note will concentrate on the proposed changes to the targets set out in the WFD, Packaging Directive and Landfill Directive.

The proposal follows a consultation last year on revising the recycling and landfill targets in these three Directives.

Current and new targets


The WFD requires 50 per cent. of household waste to be recycled by 2020. The UK is on track to fall short of this, with the recycling rate only rising by 0.2 per cent. last year to 43.2 per cent.

The new proposed targets are:

  • By 1 January 2020, recycling and preparing for re-use of municipal waste shall be increased to a minimum of 50 per cent. by weight
  • By 1 January 2030, recycling and preparing for re-use of municipal waste shall be increased to a minimum of 70 per cent. by weight

Note the difference between the targets. The current target is to recycle 50 per cent. of household waste. The new targets are to recycle 50-70 per cent. of municipal waste.

The (new) definition of municipal waste goes beyond just household waste to include waste from retail trade, small businesses, office buildings and institutions (such as schools, hospitals, government buildings) similar in nature and composition to household waste, including bulky waste (white goods, furniture, mattresses), yard waste and litter, waste from park/garden maintenance and street cleaning. So if these proposals go ahead, the 50 per cent. target by 2020 would be even less achievable for the UK than it is currently.

The UK will also have to take measures to prevent food waste generation along the whole food supply chain, endeavouring to ensure that food waste in the manufacturing, retail/distribution, food service/hospitality and household sectors is reduced by at least 30 per cent. between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2025. “Food waste” is defined as “food (including inedible parts) lost from the food supply chain, not including food diverted to material uses such as bio-based products, animal feed, or sent for redistribution”.


These are the current packaging waste recycling targets, from Defra:

Material 2012 (%) 2013 (%) 2014 (%) 2015 (%) 2016 (%) 2017 (%)
Paper/card 69.5 69.5 69.5 69.5 69.5 69.5
Glass 81 81 81 81 81 81
Aluminium 40 43 46 49 52 55
Steel 71 72 73 74 75 76
Plastic 32 37 42 47 52 57
Wood 22 22 22 22 22 22
Total recovery 74 75 76 77 78 79
Of which recycling 68.1 69 69.9 70.8 71.8 72.7


The new proposed targets are:

Proportion to be prepared for re-use and recycled

End of 2020


End of 2025


End of 2030


Weight of all packaging material












Ferrous metal












Paper and cardboard





The Landfill Directive currently requires the UK to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill to:

  • 75 per cent. of 1995 levels by 2010
  • 50 per cent. of 1995 levels by 2013
  • 35 per cent. of 1995 levels by 2020

The new proposed targets are:

By 1 January 2025

  • No landfilling of recyclable waste including plastics, metals, glass, paper and cardboard
  • No landfilling of other biodegradable waste (meaning wood, food and garden waste, and paper and cardboard, and any other waste that can undergo anaerobic or aerobic decomposition)
  • 25 per cent. maximum of total amount of municipal waste generated in the previous year can be landfilled

By 1 January 2030

Only residual waste can be landfilled, with the result that the total amount landfilled does not exceed 5 per cent. of all municipal waste generated in the previous year (not legally binding, just an objective, which will be reviewed by 2025 and a legally-binding target substituted if appropriate).

Early warning system

There is to be an early warning system so that the Commission reports on how these targets are being achieved three years before the deadline. If there is a risk of the UK not meeting a target, the UK must submit a compliance plan within six months of the report, setting out what measures it will take to meet the targets. In drawing up a compliance plan, the UK has to consider a number of measures including:

  • Progressive increase of landfill taxes
  • Introducing or increasing incineration taxes or specific bans on incinerating recyclable waste
  • ‘Pay as you throw’ schemes
  • Economic incentives for local authorities to promote prevention, develop and intensify separate collection streams.

The UK can request up to a three-year extension of time to meet the 2020 recycling target, but not the others.

It is this aspect of the draft proposals that seems to have caused most excitement in the press, with speculation that the EU will force the UK to adopt ‘pay as you throw’ schemes, where householders are charged according to the amount of waste put out for collection.

Other measures

Member States also need to ensure separate collection of bio-waste by 2025. The Recitals to the draft Directive state that this should contribute to preventing contamination of recyclable materials.

The proposal also aims to align the definitions of ‘municipal waste’, ‘food waste’ and ‘backfilling’ across the Directives and simplify the reporting procedures.

The Circular Economy package also included Communications on:

  • Towards a circular economy: a zero waste programme for Europe
  • A Green Employment Initiative
  • A Green Action Plan for SMEs
  • Resource Efficiency Opportunities in the Building Sector

For more information see the press release

Next steps

The proposed new Directive needs to be debated by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers before it is approved.  Both Parliament and the Council can suggest amendments and there is no time limit for the discussions. It is likely to be at least a year before the proposals are enacted, and they may not be enacted in their original form.  We will monitor developments and keep you updated.