On 3 December, in a bid to help businesses and citizens to make the transition to a more “circular economy” where as little as possible is wasted, the European Commission presented the Circular Economy Action Plan. Despite being branded as less ambitious than its predecessor, the plan focuses on “closing the loop” of product the lifecycle, from production and consumption to waste management, through greater recycling and re-use.
The main actions outlined in the Action Planinclude:
A paced approach to reducing landfilling
New measures promoting better design standards for consumer goods (through the EcoDesign measures)
New measures promoting reuse activities (requirements on repair information and warranty)
Upcoming proposals on: reuse of wastewater, common rules on bio-fertilisers, “end of waste” criteria for secondary raw materials, European quality standards for secondary raw materials, and new requirements for electronic displays to be “easier and safer to dismantle, reuse and recycle”.
Promotion of non-toxic material cycles
€24bn funding for circular economy innovation
Minimum criteria for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes and incentives
Improved and simplified waste definitions and harmonised calculation methods
The Action Plan also includes a revised legislative proposal on Waste setting the following long-term targets:
A common EU target for recycling municipal waste of 65% by 2030;
A common EU target for recycling packaging waste of 75% by 2030;
Material-specific targets for different packaging materials by 2025: 55 % of plastic; 60% of wood; 75% of ferrous metal; 75% of aluminium; 75% % of glass; 75% of paper and cardboard;
A binding landfill reduction target of 10% by 2030;
The Commission has put a special emphasis on plastics, announcing that a specific strategy will be presented in 2017 addressing issues such as recyclability, biodegradability, hazardous substances found in certain plastics, as well as marine litter.
The European Parliament and the European Council will both discuss amend the proposed legislation in the coming months.
What does this mean for businesses?
The Circular Economy package gives a signal that the EU is intent on transforming its economy, hence urging at product manufacturers to re-think the designs of their products to make them more durable, and with the end-of-life stage in mind.
Depending on the requisites of the waste proposal once adopted, it is likely that the higher recycling targets translate into greater costs incurred by manufacturers/waste management industry and that the new circular model disrupts business models from within.
In addition, it is expected that financing of the circular economy will open markets for waste management and innovative solutions in several sectors and will increase skilled job growth.
Understanding and implementing the EU’s priorities on the circular economy will be indispensable when making future corporate sustainability choices in Europe.