Call for Europe to adopt new Materials Framework Directive

Eunomia report outlines strategies for the EU to adjust its material and waste management laws that will help meet targets to limit global warming to under 1.5°C

Empty Conveyor Belt illustrating reduced consumption
Empty Conveyor Belt illustrating reduced consumption
In what it calls ‘An EU-level Regulatory Framework for a Low-Carbon Material Economy’, the environment consultancy has put forward a set of proposals aimed at guiding Europe towards a more sustainable, low-carbon economy.

The recommendations in Managing Materials for 1.5°C align with numerous initiatives advocated by the recent Antwerp Declaration for a European Industrial Deal, including the elimination of regulatory discrepancies and the reduction of excessive reporting requirements.

Adopting a new overarching EU framework, the authors identify the potential to make greater progress, more swiftly and efficiently, than individual Member States could on their own. Doing this will streamline operations, foster innovation in sustainability, and enhance Europe's leadership in environmental stewardship and the circular economy.

Commenting on the report Dr Chris Sherrington, Eunomia, Head of Environmental Policy & Economics said: “We recognise the political challenge of introducing the proposed measures – particularly the greater application of environmental taxation at the EU-level. Accordingly, we argue that addressing the current levels of societal inequality is both an important end in itself, but also something that might reasonably be expected to ease the political challenge of introducing the policy measures needed to move towards a low carbon material economy.”

Key Proposals Outlined

The report proposes a comprehensive framework for managing materials within the EU, aiming to refine and augment current regulations with new strategies to advance towards a sustainable and circular economy. This framework seeks to integrate various policy areas, enhancing efficiency and fostering a shift towards environmentally friendly practices across industries.

  • Decarbonising Material Production: The extension of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) and the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) is recommended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from material production efficiently.
  • Advancing Product Policy: Through initiatives like the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) and Digital Product Passports, the report suggests a shift towards consumption of durable, repairable, and recyclable products.
  • Standardising Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): Taking this approach will reduce the administrative burden of EPR schemes across the EU and more accurately apply the polluter pays principle.
  • Establishing Product Taxation: Eunomia suggests a harmonised product taxation approach to encourage the production and selection of sustainable products by adjusting pricing incentives.
  • Utilising Green Public Procurement: Currently worth more than €2 trillion, public sector spending has the potential to influence market shifts towards circular business models through procurement practices. 
  • Encouraging Repair and Reuse: Calls for establishing standards to normalise repair and reuse systems, supporting longevity and sustainability of products.
  • Defining the Product-Waste Boundary: Advocates for standardising the moment when products are considered waste, to streamline repair and refurbishment efforts within the Single Market. This facilitates longer product lifespans and supports circular economy principles.

To enhance the proposed measures, the report suggests a re-imagined Waste Hierarchy that pinpoints materials as they verge on becoming waste, categorising them more effectively for recycling and treatment.

Additionally, it advocates for a new Materials Framework Directive to replace the current Waste Framework Directive, which, despite its past successes, is now deemed inadequate for contemporary decarbonisation goals. This new directive would prioritise resource efficiency and circularity, promoting a legislative environment conducive to sustainable material management, including the introduction of material taxation at the EU level and urging Member States to adopt a hierarchy in material application to minimise usage and environmental impact.

The report received funding from a consortium including Handelens Miljøfond, Minderoo Foundation, TOMRA, and Zero Waste Europe, all organisations actively engaged in exploring improved material management strategies to address environmental challenges.

Axel Darut, Public Affairs Associate for Minderoo Foundation, commented: ‘This report offers a systemic approach, with comprehensive toolkits and a range of measures – from ecodesign to end-of-life – to accelerate a sustainable and just transition to a circular economy. We hope it inspires policymakers and global leaders to shape circular economy policies that align with the Paris Agreement.’

Aline Maigret, Zero Waste Europe, Head of Policy added: "Amidst the urgency to stay within a 1.5 degrees carbon budget, this new report underscores a pivotal shift in perspective: from a waste-focused policymaking we need to put strategic resource use at the heart of EU's priorities. It suggests reimagining materials, offering pragmatic solutions that engage progressive businesses, and adapt to changing politics”.