EU special: Achieving a circular economy

The European Commission (EC) has announced a new policy package to achieve a ‘circular economy’ in Europe, complementing other proposals released on 2 July.

The proposals are documented in the communication paper, Towards a circular economy: A zero waste programme for Europe.

Two other communication papers were also announced alongside the waste programme, outlining measures to increase employment in green industries and enable SMEs to benefit more from the transition to a low carbon economy.

Main proposals

The headline proposals in the package are to:

  • Increase recycling rates of municipal waste to a minimum of 70 per cent by 2030
  • Increase the recycling rate for packaging waste to 80 per cent by 2030 (with material-specific targets of 60 per cent for plastics, 80 per cent for wood and 90 per cent for paper, ferrous metals, aluminium and glass)
  • Ban the landfilling of recyclable plastics, metals, glass, paper and cardboard and biodegradable waste by 2025
  • Reduce food waste from manufacturing, retail, distribution, food and hospitality sectors by a minimum of 30 per cent by 2025
  • Introduce minimum operating conditions for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

Business case

Janez Potocnik, European commissioner for the environment, announced the proposals as a transition away from “a resource intensive economic model facing increasing, more volatile resource prices.”

“We propose to make Europe a society without waste. [These proposals aim] to take the 600 million tonnes of materials contained in our waste and pump them back into productive use in the economy.”

According to the EC, eliminating waste to landfill by 2030 could create more than 180,000 direct jobs across Europe, on top of the 400,000 jobs expected to be created through current waste legislation.

‘Fundamental shift’

Steve Lee, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM), said: “[The proposals] will require a fundamental shift in government policy and focus; creating the right conditions for investment in the necessary infrastructure will be one of the priorities.

“This is a clear signal that the EU recognises the importance of waste and resource management to our future prosperity, resource security, green jobs and environmental protection.”

Resource efficiency

The need to reduce resource use across Europe is also highlighted in the paper, which proposes a target of increasing resource productivity by 30 per cent by 2030.

According to the EC, meeting this target would boost Europe’s GDP by one per cent and create over two million jobs, as well as reduce Europe’s reliance on resource imports.

Furthermore, the paper notes that resource efficiency improvements - such as waste prevention, eco-design and material reuse - represent a savings potential of €630 billion (£500 billion) for European business. It could also reduce the EU's annual carbon emissions by up to four per cent.


However, the announcements have been met with some criticism.

Friends of the Earth spokesperson, Richard Dyer, argued that by focusing purely on material usage, the proposals fail to take into account Europe’s use of land and water and are therefore not ambitious enough. According to new research, the EU's 'land footprint' almost doubles when imported goods and services are taken into account.

“A 70 per cent recycling target by 2030 is a big step forward, but if the EU really wants to take this issue seriously it must start measuring all the land, water, carbon and materials Europe is responsible for using - and set out clear plans to reduce them,” Dyer said.

‘Considerable investment’

Other commentators highlighted that the level of ambition may already be too high.

David Palmer-Jones, chair of the Environmental Services Association (ESA) said: “The key question will be how these aspirational targets can be turned into reality on the ground. That will require considerable investment, most of which will come from the private sector.”

The EC’s proposals will force several amendments to existing EU legislation, if formally adopted by the European Council and Parliament.

Posted under General Interest on 9 July 2014

Posted under General Interest on 14 July 2014