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EU Adopts Circular Economy Package, But Is It Good Enough?

Image Credit: European Commission

Stakeholders are yet again criticizing the European Commission’s new Circular Economy Package. The original policy, released in December of last year, was denounced as insufficiently ambitious, resulting in its dismissal and a review process over the course of 2015. The Commission adopted the revised package on December 2nd, but some claim the new policy is even weaker than the original.

The rationale for circular economy legislation is clear. In the words of the European Commission’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development: "Our planet and our economy cannot survive if we continue with the 'take, make, use and throw away' approach. We need to retain precious resources and fully exploit all the economic value within them. The circular economy is about reducing waste and protecting the environment, but it is also about a profound transformation of the way our entire economy works. By rethinking the way we produce, work and buy we can generate new opportunities and create new jobs.”

Timmermans went on to say the new Circular Economy Package “sets a credible and ambitious path for better waste management in Europe with supportive actions that cover the full product cycle. This mix of smart regulation and incentives at EU level will help businesses and consumers, as well as national and local authorities, to drive this transformation.”

Unfortunately, there has already been some debate on the validity of those claims. Charitable organization Friends of the Earth said the new Circular Economy Package “is worse than the old one,” “notably weaker than its predecessor,” and “falls short in many areas.”

The organization acknowledged the policy will be an improvement over the status quo, but notes that the target for reuse and recycling of municipal waste was reduced from 70 percent to 65 percent by 2030, and two other targets — a target to reduce food waste by 30 percent between 2017 and 2025; and a target for an overall reduction in the total amount of resources used — were removed altogether. Friends of the Earth added that the Commission did not follow through on recommendations to incorporate a plan to measure land, water, carbon, and raw material footprints.

“The Commission’s proposal is a disappointment in that it doesn’t nearly go far enough. It is now on the Parliament and Member States to ensure that high recycling targets are maintained, and that binding obligations to reduce absolute resource consumption are included in the final package,” said Samuel Lowe, Resource Use Campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

The Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE) also criticized the policy, suggesting it could do more for encouraging innovation in materials and waste.

“Just increasing the individual recycling targets for key materials like paper, plastics and aluminum will not be sufficient to match innovation,” said Bertil Heerink, director general of ACE. “Measures must be taken that strengthen existing recycling solutions, foster innovation in new recyclable materials and recycling techniques, resulting in a further increase in recycling of beverage cartons across Europe.”

The EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy targets are:

  • A common EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030;
  • A common EU target for recycling 75% of packaging waste by 2030;
  • A binding landfill target to reduce landfill to maximum of 10% of all waste by 2030;
  • A ban on landfilling of separately collected waste;
  • Promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling;
  • Simplified and improved definitions and harmonised calculation methods for recycling rates throughout the EU;
  • Concrete measures to promote re-use and stimulate industrial symbiosis - turning one industry's by-product into another industry's raw material; and
  • Economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes (e.g. for packaging, batteries, electric and electronic equipment, vehicles).

Several proposed directives on waste and fact sheets were also released. The European Commission expects the proposals to create energy bill savings of €465 per year per household by 2020, and over 170,000 jobs by 2035 through waste management efforts. Over 500 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions reductions are expected between 2015 and 2035.

The circular economy action plan will be funded by over €650 million from the Horizon 2020 EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, €5.5 billion from structural funds for waste management, and investments in the circular economy at the national level.


Hannah Furlong is an Editorial Assistant for Sustainable Brands, based in Canada. She is researching the circular economy as a Master's student in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's in Environment and Business Co-op. Hannah… [Read more about Hannah Furlong]


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