Circular economy legislation faces final vote after EU approval

EU ambassadors have endorsed the provisional agreement on the four legislative proposals that make up the Circular Economy Package (CEP), including a target of a 60 per cent municipal recycling rate.

The endorsement for the set of legislation designed to increase recycling, reduce waste and advance a circular economy in Europe came last week (23 February), more than two months after the agreement was reached on the CEP between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council.  

Circular economy legislation faces final vote after EU approval
The legislative amendments will now go to the European Parliament for a vote
The new rules establish legally binding targets for waste recycling and the reduction of landfilling with fixed deadlines. These targets will increase the share of municipal waste and packaging waste that is recycled, with specific targets for the recycling of materials used in packaging. The rules also include targets for reducing the amount of municipal waste which is landfilled.                       

EU member states will be obliged to reach a 55 per cent municipal recycling rate by 2025, 60 per cent by 2030 and 65 per cent by 2035. Specific targets for packaging are also included for all packaging (70 per cent), plastic (55 per cent), wood (30 per cent), ferrous metals (80 per cent), aluminium (60 per cent), glass (75 per cent) and paper and cardboard (85 per cent).

In addition to material-specific targets, member states will have until 1 January 2025 to set up a separate collection for textile waste and hazardous waste from households and until 31 December 2023 to ensure that bio-waste is either collected separately or recycled at source (e.g. home composting).

A landfill reduction target is also included in the package, with member states expected to ensure that, as of 2030, all waste suitable for recycling or other recovery shall not be accepted in landfills, except waste for which landfilling is the best environmental outcome. In addition, member states will ensure that by 2035 the amount of municipal waste being sent to landfill is reduced to less than 10 per cent of the total amount of municipal waste generated.

Provisions pertaining to extended producer responsibility schemes are also included, with producers of products under these schemes legally obliged to bear responsibility for the management of the waste stage of their products. Producers will further be required to pay a financial contribution for that purpose. In addition, mandatory extended producer responsibility schemes for all packaging have also been introduced in EU legislation.

Next steps

Now that EU ambassadors have endorsed the provisional agreement reached between the Estonian Presidency and the European Parliament on 18 December 2017, the legislation will be submitted to the European Parliament for a vote and then to the Council for final adoption. It will enter into force 20 days after its publication in the Official Journal.

Thus marks the end of the drawn out negotiation process and marks another step towards the realisation of a circular economy in Europe. An initial draft package was released by the European Commission in 2014 before being scrapped following the Juncker Commission’s accession to the helm of the EU, with a new package being published in 2015 with a headline 65 per cent recycling target by 2030.

Trilogue negotiations between the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament began in May 2017 after each entity had agreed a negotiating position.

While the course of negotiations did not run smooth, with several nations had been labelled ‘laggards’ for their supposed lack of ambition on targets, compared to the European Commission’s 65 per cent proposal and the European Parliament’s argument to increase that to 70 per cent, agreement was eventually reached before the end of 2017.

Despite the uncertainty that has enshrouded British politics since the Brexit Referendum vote in 2016, the UK Government still expects the CEP to apply to the UK, although until the final Brexit deal is struck with the EU this is not a foregone conclusion.

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