Although slowly rising, the recycling rate of municipal waste in Hungary is only 35%, well below the EU average of around 46%. More efforts are therefore needed if Hungary is to meet the 2020 target of 50% of municipal waste recycling. Despite a 16% drop since 2013, landfilling is still the predominant form of municipal waste treatment in Hungary (48% vs the EU average of around 28%).
In his opening presentation, Commissioner Vella focussed on a number of the “key priority actions” for improvement identified in the Early Warning Report. He drew particular attention to the need for effective separate collection, efficient Extended Producer Responsibility schemes, and improved use of economic instruments (such as landfill and incineration taxes) as crucial tools to ensure high quality recycling and ensuring compliance with EU waste legislation. Furthermore, the Commissioner underlined that reforms in waste management should be linked to a national Circular Economy strategy.
Minister of State for Economic Strategy and Regulation Laszlo Gyorgy set out the government’s wider plans for economic growth. In his presentation, Mr Balázs Weingartner, Minister of State for Sustainability, recognised that Hungary’s current waste management structure is unable to deliver the levels of recycling required by EU waste legislation. Mr. Weingartner announced that Hungary has set up two expert groups to advise the government on ‘priority waste streams’ and ‘EPR’. The former is expected to deliver its advice by the end of summer or early autumn. Mr. Weingartner announced Hungary aims to set up a separate collection scheme for bio-waste by 2023.
The focus of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) session was on packaging and on the importance of Producer Responsibility Organisations. Peter Mucska of the Hungarian Mineral Water, Fruit Juice, Soft Drink Association highlighted new developments in the packaging sector while Dr. Laszlo Duma of Returpack, a pilot beverage packaging take-back scheme in Hungary, detailed its main successes and challenges. Ülla Huik from the European EPR Alliance (EXPRA) provided some examples of successful PROs and EPR schemes along with some lessons learned that could be useful for the Hungarian context.
Experts from different European regions (Flanders, Lisbon, Catalonia) drew from their experiences and elaborated on the way they addressed the waste management challenges Hungary is currently facing. Both Ms. Lieze Cloots from the Flemish Waste Agency (OVAM) and Mr. Josep Maria Tost i Borràs from the Catalan Waste Agency (ARC) emphasised the significance of gradually increasing landfill taxes to improve waste management and stimulate recycling. Nuno Bento presented his work in mapping material flows in the Lisbon Region, emphasizing the importance of understanding such material flows in developing regional economies and ensuring their resilience in face of pressures on material supplies. Patrick Dorvil of the European Investment Bank set out the EIB investment support for circular economy initiatives.
A two-hour session was dedicated to separate collection of waste. The President of Municipal Waste Europe, Patrick Hasenkamp, and Michele Giavini of the Italian Composting and Biogas Association highlighted that separate collection is essential for effective waste management and to develop recycling investment in Hungary. The international speakers were unanimous in emphasizing the importance of separate collection on municipal waste as a top priority. Two Hungarian presentations focused on specific waste streams. Adrienne Buday-Malik of EMI, a technical research institute, announced that they are developing guidelines for recycled materials in building and construction waste, and for Textrade, Robert D. Nagy expanded on their work to set up separate collection of textiles in Hungary. Dr. Blanka Daniella Szilvassy of the National Food Chain Safety Office drew attention to the challenges of finding new substitute materials for food packaging to replace less sustainable ones.
In the concluding session, Joe Papineschi of Eunomia set out the challenges for Hungary in meeting the objectives in European waste legislation, but also the potential this provided for economic growth and jobs. William Neale of the European Commission drew attention to the need for both legal and economic approaches to work coherently to get onto the virtuous circle of better resource use. Finally Dr. Martina Markai, Deputy Minister of State for Sustainable Development put the circular economy in the wider perspective of achieving sustainable development goals.