The European circular economy package – what the experts think
The European commission put bold plans to scrap waste on hold last year, but is preparing to present a new and improved proposal.
In December last year, the European commission stepped back from its circular economy package, which had included a ban on sending recyclable materials to landfill by 2025 and a target for EU states to recycle 70% of municipal waste by 2030.
While Friends of the Earth condemned the commission’s decision, it was an outcome that the lobby group BusinessEurope had hoped for, arguing that the package would inhibit the competitiveness of European businesses.
The commission now says it is aiming to present “a new, more ambitious circular economy strategy” later this year and is currently in its consultation phase.
We asked experts what they hoped to see from the new package.
Janez Potočnik, co-chair of UN International Resource Panel and former European commissioner for the environment
We need a strategy strong enough to decouple Europe’s economic growth from natural resource use, because our future competitiveness depends on it. An action plan of initiatives in Brussels will help, but will not lead to systemic change. The framework must be set for coherent actions by member states, and above all for the private sector to invest in the right direction. Systemic change is possible only if the circular economy concept is fully accepted in all policy areas and integrated in the economic governance process. That requires resource productivity targets backed by indicators.
I’m encouraged by recent developments in the EC and I believe that the new proposal will have many good elements and will genuinely address the different parts of the “circle”. It should be based on an understanding that waste is a resource and not a problem.
By matching the level of ambition I tabled last year in the revision of the waste legislation, that message would be clear. I particularly hope that the new proposals will deal effectively with waste prevention, including food waste.
Ariadna Rodrigo, resource use campaigner, Friends of the Earth Europe
The new circular economy package needs to go beyond simply improving how we deal with our waste, and instead address the fundamental problem of why we’ve got so much of it in the first place. The expected increased recycling rates for municipal waste to 70% and other improved waste measures are all welcome, but we can’t miss the opportunity to start to seriously change how resources are consumed and managed in Europe.
If we’re serious about cutting our consumption, we need to start measuring the resources we use. As the saying goes, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. We need footprint indicators for materials, water, land and greenhouse gases.
Unfortunately, things aren’t looking good here. The European commission has so far been deaf to calls to measure our resource use, without which the final package risks ending up as an exercise in window dressing.
Seb Dance, Labour MEP for London
The transition to a circular economy is a key opportunity for the European Union to achieve a multitude of industrial and environmental objectives and I hope that the commission is serious when it says it wants to come back with a more holistic package.
I was encouraged by the outcome of last week’s Environment Committee vote on the circular economy, which called for binding targets for the reduction of municipal and industrial waste by 2025. Separate collection systems for paper, metal, plastic and glass should also be introduced wherever they are not already present, while making it as easy as possible for consumers. Key to the revised package will be waste prevention measures, such as better product design to promote durability, reparability, reusability and recyclability. This presents significant innovation opportunities for European businesses.
The circular economy is not just an opportunity for business and research institutions, but it is a necessity for Europe and I am confident that the commission will have listened to the European Parliament’s call to deliver a comprehensive and ambitious set of proposals.
Andy Doran, senior manager, sustainability and recycling development, Novelis
The package needs hard targets for managing physical resources across the European marketplace, but with an enabling framework of taxation and product policies that encourage innovation to deliver new, more sustainable business practices.
I remain optimistic that business-led innovation will continue and that the politicians through the circular economy package can find some practical ways to embed circular thinking into the structure and support of their economies.
From a business perspective our expectations probably outstrip the political realities of what can be delivered, so we believe that market-led initiatives are likely to remain at the forefront of the circular economy as business continues to demonstrate that there is financial value in new circular business models.
Alexandre Affre, director of Industrial affairs, BusinessEurope
BusinessEurope expects the commission to substantially widen its approach to this complex dossier in order to grasp opportunities of circularity. Avoiding one-size-fits-all solutions, and with close involvement of all stakeholders including businesses, consumers, public authorities, research and academia, we can incentivise society to embed circularity in different processes.
The commission should start with proper implementation of the existing legislation to make the best use of it and address the concern of political and technical objectives and their conflict.
Industry sees an opportunity in enhanced co-operation across the value chains, replicating best practices across the member states and providing platforms to exchange knowledge and technologies, especially in the SME sector.
Funding opportunities, active demand-side and public procurement will all play a crucial role in promoting circular products, services and processes.