EU environment ministers to have say on Circular Economy Action Plan

European Environment Ministers have met twice to discuss the action plan
Environment ministers from across the European Union (EU) will meet on Monday (20 June) to approve conclusions on the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan.

Among the measures that ministers will to see included in the plan are those to stimulate the secondary raw materials market and renewed action on an eco-design strategy.

Two ministerial debates on the EU action plan have taken place in the European Council since the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package (consisting of legislative proposals and an action plan) was presented in December, following which the Dutch Presidency prepared a draft conclusion document, which will be put forward for adoption on Monday.

Stimulated demand for secondary materials

According to the document, measures must be taken to support the development and long-term competitiveness of EU industry, with a particular need for stimulated demand for secondary raw materials and high-quality recycling by promoting their use and improving confidence in their quality.

The document calls on the commission to develop uniform end-of-waste criteria where appropriate, and to promote the development of EU and international quality standards for secondary raw materials, in order to facilitate cross border movement while safeguarding the environment and human health.

It also notes the ‘crucial role of consumers’ in the transition to a circular economy, and emphasises the importance promoting appropriate market-based mechanisms and developing supportive infrastructure that will boost sustainable behaviour, consumption and production, both in business-to-consumer and business-to-business markets.

Action on marine pollution

After Defra MP George Eustice this week told the Environmental Audit Committee, the cross-party group that monitors government’s policies on the environment, that the government was willing to pursue a ban on the use of microbeads if European action was not taken, the document also calls for robust measures to reduce the discharge of plastic debris into the marine environment should be proposed by 2017 at the latest.

This includes a ban on microplastics in cosmetics. Microbeads are used in many products, including body or facial scrubs, and are too small to be caught by water filtration technology after they are washed down plugs. Eustice told the EAC that EU action was required both to stop the sale of EU-manufactured products containing microbeads and to protect seas shared with European neighbours.

The European Council report also states a wish for proposals to address other products generating marine litter as appropriate.


EU environment ministers to have say on Circular Economy Action Plan
Sharon Dijksma, Dutch Minister for the Environment, has led the debates under the Dutch presidency
The response also stresses the need to ensure that products are designed and produced more sustainably, taking into account their full lifecycle and minimising negative impact on the environment and on human health. To this end, it notes ‘with concern’ that the European Commission has failed to follow its timetable for actions regarding eco-design.

It urges the commission to follow up on actions, with a work plan for 2015-17 that was initially due to be published in December 2015, without delay.

FEAD, a federation representing the European waste management industry, expressed its frustration over the lack of movement on the issue in April, stressing that eco-design will play ‘a determinant role’ in the successful transition to a circular economy and will become a crucial step to closing product loops.

Other measures called for by the document include:

  • Consistency in national approaches and standards should be sought, to enable exchange of best practices and more financial incentives and market-based instruments to stimulate reuse and the market for secondary raw materials;
  • In cooperation with the member states, the commission should develop a ‘dashboard of reliable indicators’ to enable the formation of ambitious and realistic targets with a long-term view;
  • An enabling policy and legislative framework for innovation to promote a circular economy throughout the value chain, including opportunities to experiment with such innovations, should be created by the commission;
  • The commission should explore possibilities to encourage the recycling of used products that are exported from the EU once they become waste;
  • The EU and its member states must actively engage with the private sector to make the transition to a circular economy as effective as possible, particularly through promoting cooperation, innovation and industrial symbiosis projects within and across sectors and value chains;
  • On a similar note, as export of waste can make it harder to achieve higher recycling rates, controls within the EU and at its borders to prevent illegal transport of waste should be reinforced by the commission;
  • The efficient use of bio-based resources should be promoted through a series of measures including guidance and dissemination of best practices on the cascading use of biomass and support for innovation in the bioeconomy; and
  • Updates should be given on the progress of the action plan every year (Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella has previously said that it will be five years before a progress report is issued).

European Parliament amendments

Earlier this month, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee released a draft report setting out its desired amendments to the Waste Framework Directive proposals set out in the package.

Notable changes the committee is calling for include the removal of exemptions to the separate collection of materials, increased recycling targets and mandatory separate food waste collection.

Discussions within the three European institutes are ongoing, and once all three have sealed their positions, the package will go to trilogues involving the European Council, Parliament, and Commission to finalise the European legislative position.

The draft report of European Council conclusions can be downloaded from the council’s website.

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