THE BLOG

Scrapping EU Air Pollution and Waste Recycling Laws Would Be Folly

16/12/2014 10:06 GMT | Updated 14/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Later today we will find out for sure if the European Commission is planning on scrapping two vital European laws. When the commission presents it's full 2015 work programme this afternoon it looks very likely that the 'clean air' and 'circular economy (waste)' packages will both be withdrawn. If the rumours and leaked documents are true, this would spell major disaster.

On air pollution it was only last week that we heard from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee about the serious environmental and health problems that are directly caused by our polluted air. Their report called on the UK Government to do much more to get to grips with air pollution and was a step in the right direction.

It therefore came as a big surprise to everyone to hear rumours that the EU's Clean Air package of measures to limit air pollution would be scrapped. This would send out completely the wrong message as there has recently been an increased scientific and medical understanding of the enormous risks that air pollution represents to public health.

Air pollution is now the worlds biggest killer after overtaking poor diet, high blood pressure and smoking and in 2010 400,000 Europeans died prematurely because of it. Allowing air pollution to go unchecked means sentencing children and adults to poor respiratory health and earlier death.

There are also rumours that Juncker is seeking to abandon the EU's circular economy package. This involves a "closed loop" approach to the economy; one in which raw materials are continually recycled and reused. The measures include an 80% recycling target for packaging by 2030 and a ban on sending recyclable materials to landfill by 2025. In 2010, the EU generated an enormous 2.5billion tonnes of waste with only 36% of this being recycled.

The challenge to this eminently sensible ambition to reduce resource use and improve efficiency comes from big business who have been lobbying hard. For example, Business Europe, an influential trade lobby, says the package should be "ditched" as it inhibits the competitiveness of European businesses.

However, other more progressive businesses believe the package is highly beneficial because of the huge potential for creating around 580,000 green jobs and because it offers resource security by reducing dependency on costly scarce resources from outside the continent. A recent report put the economic gain from material savings alone at over $1trillion per year and cited the half a million jobs already created by the recycling industry in the EU.

President Juncker has said he wants to be "more ambitious on big things, and more modest on small things". So, let's make tackling air pollution and creating a circular economy with massively reduced levels of waste a big and ambitious part of the Juncker presidency. Given the economic and environmental benefits of these two vital packages, now is not the time for them to be sidelined as insignificant 'small things', or worst of all, abandoned altogether.

We urge everyone reading to sign this petition on change.org calling for President Jean-Claude Juncker not to scrap the EUs clean air package.