Circular Economy Package sets 65% recycling target

Circular Economy Package sets 65% recycling targetThe European Commission’s (EC) long-awaited Circular Economy Package (CEP) has been launched, downgrading proposed recycling targets across the European Union (EU) to 65 per cent by 2030, though this target is now coupled with a legally-binding 10 per cent limit on waste to landfill.

Presented by the EC’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans in Brussels today (2 December), the package purports to provide ‘concrete steps covering the whole lifecycle of products and not just the waste phase’.

By extracting maximum value and use of raw materials, through waste prevention, ecodesign and reuse, the EU estimates that the plan could create savings of €600 billion (£422 billion) for businesses in the EU, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to four per cent.

Waste targets

A draft circular economy package, released in July last year, included a proposed 70 per cent recycling and reuse target for 2030, as well as increased rates for packaging waste and a ban on landfilling recyclable products and biodegradable waste by 2025.

With the Juncker Commission taking over in November 2014, however, the decision was made to scrap the plans and retable a package that was ‘more ambitious’ and ‘more country-specific’. This followed reports that EU states with poor recycling records would not agree to the initial package.

Indeed, when a proposal to include binding 70 per cent recycling targets for 2030, among other measures, was strongly supported by MEPs in July, the Guardian reported that the UK urged MEPs to oppose the targets.

As suggested by a Friends of the Earth Europe report last week, the headline recycling target has been reduced to 65 per cent.

Waste reduction targets in the new proposal are accompanied by measures to address obstacles across member states. These include:

  • a common EU target for recycling 65 per cent of municipal waste by 2030;
  • a common EU target for recycling 75 per cent of packaging waste by 2030;
  • a binding landfill target to reduce landfill to maximum of 10 per cent of all waste by 2030;
  • a ban on landfilling of separately-collected waste;
  • promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling;
  • simplified and improved definitions and harmonised calculation methods for recycling rates throughout the EU;
  • concrete measures to promote reuse and stimulate industrial symbiosis –turning one industry’s byproduct into another industry’s raw material;
  • economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes (e.g. for packaging, batteries, electric and electronic equipment, vehicles).

‘Much more ambitious’ package ‘covers the full circle’

When asked how the reduction of targets from last year’s proposals meets with the ‘ambitious’ intentions, Timmermans said: “This package is much more ambitious as it covers the full circle. The previous package was just about waste. This is not just mentioning targets but setting out clear pathways about how to reach those targets. We’ve set a target that we think is very ambitious but realistic. We will monitor progress over the next few years. If we see that we’re on our way to reaching that target, we will increase it.”

Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the EC and Jyrki Katainen, Vice-President of the EC present the package
He suggested that the 70 per cent target would not have been achievable, in part due to the refusal to engage from poor-performing member states, adding: “I prefer realistic steps forward to pie in the sky.”

He also pointed out that the legally binding target of a maximum of 10 per cent of municipal waste going to landfill by 2030 was completely new to the CEP.

Although there is no legislative measure on incineration as a replacement for landfill, Timmermans confirmed that the EC wants to make sure that incineration does not become the ‘easy way out’. It is keen that economic or legal incentives to raising incineration capacity are prevented and that incinerators are not built and subsequently end up actively looking for waste to combust.

The EC has also pledged to adopt a ‘waste to energy’ initiative in the framework of the European Energy Union.

Action Plan

Today’s announcement set out a number of key actions that, the EC says, will either be adopted from today or carried out under the current commission’s mandate. These are:

  • funding of over €650 million (£458 million) under Horizon 2020 and €5.5 billion (£3.9 billion) under the structural funds;
  • actions to reduce food waste including a common measurement methodology, improved date marking, and tools to meet the global Sustainable Development Goal to halve food waste by 2030;
  • development of quality standards for secondary raw materials to increase the confidence of operators in the single market;
  • measures in the Ecodesign Working Plan for 2015-2017 to promote reparability, durability and recyclability of products, in addition to energy efficiency;
  • a revised regulation on fertilisers, to facilitate the recognition of organic and waste-based fertilisers in the single market and support the role of bio-nutrients;
  • a strategy on plastics in the circular economy, addressing issues of recyclability, biodegradability, the presence of hazardous substances in plastics, and the Sustainable Development Goals target for significantly reducing marine litter;
  • a series of actions on water reuse including a legislative proposal on minimum requirements for the reuse of wastewater.

Food waste and ecodesign

Food waste and ecodesign were both emphasised in the launch of the CEP, with Timmermans criticising in particular products that are designed to fail as soon as their warranty has lapsed.

The package calls better product design ‘key’ to facilitating recycling and making products easier to repair or more durable.

To this end, the EC will alter the Ecodesign Directive to focus on resource efficiency, rather than energy efficiency. It will also propose requirements and framework to make producers more responsible for repairability and preparation for reuse.

No specific targets for food waste reduction are included in the package, though it does reiterate support among member states for a goal to halve per capita food waste at retail and consumer levels, as set out in September by the United Nations in its Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

The CEP states that the EC will develop a common EU methodology to measure food waste and define relevant indicators, create a platform to help define the measures needed to meet the UN’s goals and take measures to facilitate food donation as well as the safe use of former foodstuffs and byproducts in feed production.

It has also committed to examining the use of best-before labels and other date marking, and how alterations to systems could benefit food waste reduction.

Package will support ‘profound transformation’ of European economy

Launching the legislative package, Timmermans said: “Our planet and our economy cannot survive if we continue with the ‘take, make, use and throw away’ approach. We need to retain precious resources and fully exploit all the economic value within them. The circular economy is about reducing waste and protecting the environment, but it is also about a profound transformation of the way our entire economy works.

“By rethinking the way we produce, work and buy, we can generate new opportunities and create new jobs. With today’s package, we are delivering the comprehensive framework that will truly enable this change to happen.

“It sets a credible and ambitious path for better waste management in Europe with supportive actions that cover the full product cycle. This mix of smart regulation and incentives at EU level will help businesses and consumers, as well as national and local authorities, to drive this transformation.”

Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, added: “These proposals give a positive signal to those waiting to invest in the circular economy. Today we are saying that Europe is the best place to grow a sustainable and environmentally-friendly business. This transition towards a more circular economy is about reshaping the market economy and improving our competitiveness. If we can be more resource efficient and reduce our dependency on scarce raw materials, we can develop a competitive edge.

“The job creation potential of the circular economy is huge, and the demand for better, more efficient products and services is booming. We will remove barriers that make it difficult for businesses to optimise their resource use and we will boost the internal market for secondary raw materials. We want to achieve real progress on the ground and look forward to delivering on this ambition together with not only member states, regions and municipalities, but also businesses, industry and civil society."

Further details on the Circular Economy Package can be found on the European Commission’s website.