Last September, the Commission adopted a series of early “warning reports” on progress towards EU recycling targets. They showed 14 Member States at risk of not complying with the 50% municipal waste recycling target by 2020.
For 12 of these Member States (it seems that Finland and Estonia were able to convince the Commission that it is not necessary to visit them) the Commission decided to visit them and to organize an exchange of ideas, experiences and best practices to help them to improve their approaches and systems. After Malta, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Portugal, this time Hungary was the destination.

EXPRA can proudly say that the Commission invited us for each of the mission as THE experts for EPR and this time our colleague Üllar Huik represented EXPRA and gave a respective presentation.

Commissioner Vella mentioned some interesting topics in his opening speech ( that he is “here today with experts from all over Europe. They want to share their experience of getting on the virtuous path to a circular economy. They will explain how they found the economic incentives. How they identified smart ways to extract more value from products. And cutting-edge techniques to extract that value when used products become waste.

Much of the problem can be traced back to poor implementation of waste legislation. Some Member States now recycle around 60% of their municipal waste. Regions like Catalonia, who you will hear from today, are showing how getting the economics right can lead you to a virtuous circular path very quickly. They show that it can be done, and so that it can be done in Hungary as well.

The obstacles are usually easy to identify. Insufficient separate collection. Weak implementation of the polluter pays principle. Lack of effective economic instruments.

Very often, you start by identifying responsibility. You need to be clear about who is responsible for reaching the targets, with an effective system to enforce the targets. But passing the responsibility to local authorities may not be enough – they usually need technical support and policy advice as well.

And citizens need to be engaged. When they know what to do, and when the economic incentives are there, then action follows naturally. We see this all over Europe. Well-designed economic instruments, coupled with information campaigns, bring rapid changes in behaviour.

Secondly, you need separate collection. It’s the best way to attract recyclers to operate in your country. Separate collection of glass, plastic, metal and paper, complemented by collection of biowaste has to be your priority.

Thirdly, economic instruments, such as landfill and incineration taxes have a proven track record. If landfilling and incineration remain the cheapest options, there is little incentive to change, and progress is very difficult. Effective systems for Extended Producer Responsibility are another essential element in the toolbox for modern waste management.

It has to be reminded that currently there is no EPR in Hungary as the government changed from EPR to a tax approach in 2012. First of all, large stake of this tax is transposed into the state budget and not spend on environmental purposes but also there is established political ‘gentleman agreement’ not to increase tariffs on the utilities, among other also on waste management services. Very obviously government is not willing to lose these billions in revenues.

Industry is lobbying for implementation of EPR. They have got great support from EU directive which is making EPR mandatory in achieving of ambitious CE targets.

During the government presentations it was revealed that authorities have been established two working groups – one to discuss municipal waste situation and another for EPR. Establishing of these working groups seems to be new for industry as they were not invited to participate in discussions. The attitude towards EPR among the Hungarian authorities has changed -they are not thinking any more to be with EPR or not, but they are discussing how to implement it in one or another way.