Bursting the Bubble

The EU Circular Economy Package: What it is vs. What it means

18 December 2015 | by

Following a year long delay, the revised EU Circular Economy Package (CEP): Closing the loop – an EU action plan for the Circular Economy was launched by Vice-President Frans Timmermans of the European Commission (EC) earlier this month (2 December). The long-awaited report aims to recognise and outline a clear path towards a sustainable and environmentally progressive circular economy across Europe by 2030. But after its much vaunted delay and the promise of a “more ambitious” proposal back in 2014, what does the CEP actually offer and how will it help propel resource and waste management onto the front-line of member state (MS) thinking over the next 15 year period?

What’s in the proposal?

The CEP itself is broken down into the following categories, for each I’ve outlined a headline action, and a “what it means” analysis which is either a serious assessment, or a fun poke at the EC’s expense, depending on which angle you look at it.

Product Design:

Headline:

  • A proposal for a mandatory product design for electronic displays (computer/TV screens) across all MS.

What it means:

  • Don’t throw away your tablets!

Production:

Headline:

  • The EC will encourage best practice and incorporate guidance across all relevant industries into Best Available Techniques reference documents (BREFs).

What it means:

  • Member states know best… / We can’t get this past the Council.

Consumption:

Headline:

  • Improved labelling to ensure consumers know when a product is environmentally sound in terms of performance, manufacturing, and sustainability.

What it means:

  • Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Waste Management:

Headline:

  • EC will legislate on long term targets: MS to recycle 65% of residual waste , 75% of packaging waste, and reducing landfill to a maximum of 10% of waste by 2030.

What it means:

  • EC: “Hands up if you are all running out of quarries to dump rubbish in?! [Right we better do something here…]”

Waste Reuse:

Headline:

  • EC will create an EU-wide market for biofertilisers to stimulate sustainable agriculture and reduce rural GHGs.

What it means:

  • Is EC finally realising that the CAP is not environmentally sustainable?

Plastics:

Headline:

  • EC to issue a tough new EU wide target to improve plastic recycling and reduce ocean contamination.

What it means:

  • “Tough on plastics, tough on the causes of plastics” (for all the Tony Blair readers).

Food waste:

Headline:

  • Common EU plan to measure and evaluate food waste use with a target – or targets – to be set once the analysis has been concluded.

What it means:

  • Yes, that bagel you threw away because the sell-by-date was one hour ago was actually edible.

Critical raw materials:

Headline:

  • MS are encouraged to retrieve more raw materials from products for re-use.

What it means:

  • “Your phone has gold and silver in it, it may help pay off our Euro debts so give it back to us – please.”

Construction:

Headline:

  • Guidelines on recovering materials from building / demolition sites to be drafted.

What it means:

  • One person’s breeze block is another person’s foundation.

Bioeconomy:

Headline:

  • Biowaste to be collected separately across EU and will be outlined in future legislative proposals.

What it means:

  • The bioeconomy is a buzzword and nobody – including the EC – know’s what it is yet.

Innovation:

Headline:

  • The 2016-17 Horizon 2020 Work Programme includes £460m for the circular economy, with more research and funding available over the next five years.

What it means:

  • EC: “We love innovation and will continue to throw money at it to create an equivalent of Silicon Valley – hopefully in the Baltics”

Conclusion:

The CEP is a much needed boost to the resource and waste management sector following a year of inactivity and little movement at the EU level. Although falling short of the ambitious nature previously stated by the EC, it sensibly advocates that much needed momentum should come from individual member states so as to be adapted to separate economies and demands. The caveat of this being, when something isn’t a binding resolution, where’s the incentive?

What do you think?