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Really, Commissioner Potocnik, 72 billion Euro a year?

In a recent speech, EU Commissioner Janez Potocnik claimed that:

“A report we have just published calculates that full implementation of the existing waste legislation by Member States would […] save € 72 billion a year “

This figure looked a little ridiculous to me, so I mocked it on Twitter and soon after got a response from the Commissioner’s Twitter account with a link to the actual report. Now, I’m no expert on waste, but I thought I had a quick look at the figures.

The first thing one has to notice is that the 72 billion figure is actually composed of actual savings in the process of waste management and a number of macro-economic externalities that are expected to come with a full implementation of the EU directive. The first is calculated with 4.9 billion Euro estimated max. savings, the second with ~67 billion Euro [p.11].

When you look into the detailed macro-economic calculations made for the year 2020 on page 31, you will discover that by far the largest chunk of the possible 72 billion Euros in savings come from the fact that the study

  • (a) estimates that while the costs of recycling would raise by ~40 billion Euro, the income from recovered materials would be equally high (~40 billion €).
  • (b) 23 billion Euro will be saved by preventing ecotoxicity of Zinc emissions

The 23 billion Euro for Zinc emissions represent 1/3 of the overall savings of 72 billion that the Commissioner used for his political speech.

However, the explanations on “Ecotoxicity” on page 226, based on a 2010 study from the Delft University of Technology, which is published in quite a chaotic way under, are not really convincing. The problem is that the figure used in the Commission study are not properly referenced, so it is difficult to actually find them  on this website. It is thus difficult to check them or their origin.

In any case, what is clear is that the calculations made in the Commission report seem to take the figures for the costs per kilogram Zinc-emissions made from this study done in the Netherlands and simply transfers them to the EU level. Through this transfer, the possible 23 billion Euro in savings are reached. The problem is that it is nowhere explained whether this is a valid assumption.

In other words, I doubt whether the estimations (!) of hypothetical (!) savings from preventing ecotoxicity made for the case of the Netherlands (!) in one (!) academic study in which this figure is just one (!) element among many can be used to project a figure of 23 billion Euro that becomes the largest chunk in the predicted savings of 71.8 billion Euro that EU Commission Potocnik used in his speech.

PS: And that is just one element of the Commission study. I suppose there is more room for doubt.

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