This year the Czech Packaging Recovery Organization (EKO-KOM) organized its jubilee 20th annual Conference “Waste and Municipalities”. This year’s event brought together representatives of various municipalities in the Czech Republic along with members of the domestic and international business community in the recycling and waste management sectors.
Legislators and officials representing relevant Czech ministries and institutions also participated in the conference. The principle topics addressed during the course of the event were the current state of municipal waste management in the European Union, initiatives being undertaken to improve the efficacy and efficiency of waste management and the concrete steps which must be taken in order to fulfill the long-term objectives of the European Union Circular Economy Package and the implications these developments have for the future of waste management in Europe.

The two-day summit began with a comprehensive introduction from Zbyněk Kozel, EKO-KOM CEO. He declared that the establishment of a new paradigm in waste management is now underway in the Czech Republic – that in addition to sorting, we are beginning to place a significant emphasis on recycling, with a fundamental shift away from landfilling, framed by the European principles of the circular economy. He further stated that waste should be considered a valuable resource as source material for further industrial production. This idea was endorsed by another panelist at the conference, Jean-Marc Boursier, President of the European Waste Management and Environmental Services Federation (FEAD). Mr. Boursier outlined his organization’s commitment to proper waste management in Europe, the reduction in the use of landfills and increasing the rate of recycled waste across the continent.

The European Union’s Circular Economy Package was lauded by the various stakeholders from the private and public sectors represented at the conference, and Czech government representatives were commended for their creation and implementation of legislation to improve upon the state of domestic recycling and waste management. One distinct indicator of the Czech Republic’s progress in this regard is that the rate of recycling of packaging materials is comparable with that of the old 15 European Union member countries. Another achievement is that contributions from EKO-KOM have enabled municipalities to effectively participate in the functioning of the system. The high density and wide distribution of distinctly colored recycling containers with accessible and user-friendly design is now commonplace. A high rate of recycling is now a prerequisite for the next step, which is the continued reduction of landfill use and the improved circulation of waste materials.

These new trends were reflected in the various presentations on specific topics over the course of the conference and some clear priorities were established – waste management and sorting, efficient and accessible energy recovery, recycling of mixed plastics, the recycling of PET bottles, maximizing the efficiency of sorting processes, promoting the further development of biodegradable plastics, addressing the challenges associated with micro plastics, non-plastic additives in yellow bins, developments in eco-friendly design, better set-up and optimizing collection networks, and the means of increasing efficiency in the use of recycled materials. In sum, the modern technologies which support improved waste management are now widely available and so what is imperative now is that the value chain within waste management providers in the public and private sector reflects this and that they are put into effective practice.

The progress the Czech Republic has made with respect to recycling and waste management was noted at various points throughout the congress. Petr Balner of EKO-KOM summarized the effective legislation put in place over the last two decades and the financial efficiency of the current system: “We have succeeded in working with municipalities, and I can state today that our joint annual project to collect and evaluate municipal waste data is unparalleled in Europe.” Jan Maršák from the Department of Waste, a division of the Ministry of the Environment, also commended the positive trends in waste management in the Czech Republic, noting that Czech legislation is adequately prepared. “Legislation and draft bills addressing recycling, packaging waste and the End-of-Life Products Act have all been deliberated and are prepared. Inter-departmental collaboration is in progress and the new Waste Act will revolutionize the circulation economy, recycling, and the recovery and sorting of waste in the Czech Republic.”

It is evident that waste management in the Czech Republic is undergoing a major transformation, that Czech and Moravian municipalities are prepared for the changes resultant from the Circulation Economy Package, and that the preparation and implementation of Czech legislation is very much moving in the right direction. The Czech EPR system EKO-KOM has proudly played a relevant role in setting these trends and served as an important initiator of development in the area of municipal waste management.