With waste, our natural instinct is simply to get rid of it. To avoid bad smell, parasites and diseases and to focus on what is clean, presentable and useful, on beauty and life. Actually, the word “waste” comes from the Old French “wast”, meaning destroyed, devoid of life.
Yet today our instinct is exactly the opposite. We now worry about the tonnes of waste suffocating us. Paradoxically, our very survival depends on long-term, sustainable thinking, on recycling and recovery. We need to stop and think. It is time to start a circular economy.
By assisting Romania in rethinking all of its financial incentives, JASPERS is helping the country along a journey that is more philosophical than it seems...
Recycling is not a field prone to revolutions like the internet or mobile phones. Yet this is precisely what Romania has to achieve. Moving from recycling 5% of municipal waste in 2010 to the EU objective of 50% by 2020 would be a spectacular feat. Doing this in 10, 20 or even 30 years would mean going from last place in the EU to global pioneer.
The other record in this story relates to the funds deployed to help Romania overcome this huge societal challenge. No other country on the planet has ever received more than EUR 1 billion in subsidies (from 2007 to 2020) to invent a Scandinavian way of life.
Anything is possible, as long as you split such a monumental task into smaller stages and, above all, take the first step. Romania and the European Commission together moved quickly to do just that – despite a few twists and turns, delays and threats of sanctions, as might be expected from such a major leap forward.
One of these stages was to modify the financial incentives for more environmentally responsible waste management. Romania itself called on JASPERS for support in this effort to comply with one of the famous “ex ante conditionalities” imposed by the EU on all of its Member States if they wish to benefit from its cohesion funds.
Taxing polluters is one of the most direct ways to change attitudes. Companies’ emotions have a surprising tendency to follow their financial interests.
However, such financial measures have to be appropriate, consistent and respected. It should be pointed out that Romania does not have a single incinerator for municipal waste and that waste collection is still a luxury not available to 15% of the population, particularly in the countryside.
In waste treatment, common sense and logic are the most powerful assets that may be. What is at stake is people’s engagement in a process that is their own. And that trust cannot be bought or built under pressure.
Over eight months, a team of four JASPERS engineers and economists reviewed all of the country's existing financial instruments in the waste management sector. They proposed a dozen or so improvements, including the three outlined below:
- A Landfill tax – Introduced in 2013, this tax penalised municipalities disposing of waste in landfills, but its application was suspended for a while, as it was too high. JASPERS therefore proposed bringing in a more gradual increase, and above all reinvesting all related income into waste collection and selective sorting. Today it is fully operational.
- Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) – Implemented13 years ago, this system did not fully achieve its aim, which was to make industry jointly responsible for the end-of-life of its products to encourage more environmentally friendly production choices. This is in line with the Ecodesign principle, which promotes a circular rather than a linear economy. JASPERS proposed introducing an EPR fee payable directly to municipalities instead of waste collectors. This would be more transparent and should also raise more funds to upgrade the country's waste management system.
- A new “pay as you throw” fee – JASPERS proposed the gradual introduction of a proportional waste management fee to replace the current fixed-rate system. This should encourage households, authorities and companies to reduce the amount of waste they send to landfill.
JASPERS’ partners benefit from its experience in other European countries, ranging from those with the most ground to cover to the most advanced nations such as Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. Our waste management experts have often worked around the world before joining JASPERS, with some spending years in developing countries. Yet, we design solutions tailored to local circumstances. In short, we provide up-close and confidential technical assistance.
The fact that our specialists work on local projects and with the European Commission on a daily basis constitutes a great diplomatic asset. They can facilitate communication between local, national and EU authorities – levels of political decision-making that do not always see eye to eye. In turn, this enables the structural funds to be released faster and reach their purpose of bringing Europe’s regions together in a more harmonised EU.
In January 2019, Romania adopted a law that includes all of JASPERS’ recommendations. The country now fulfils all of the conditions and can continue to receive EU subsidies in this sector. Effective waste management with a clear hierarchy – from prevention and reuse to energy recovery – is a major step. It is also solid ground on which to develop a truly circular economy.