European Green Deal to include new circular economy plan

The circular economy and resource management have been placed at the centre of the European Commission’s European Green Deal, with proposals including a EU-wide model for the separate collection of waste and rules on minimum recycled content promising a step change in the EU’s approach to resources and waste.

The European Green Deal, the details of which were unveiled today (11 December) in an official Communication from the Commission, sets a carbon neutral target of 2050 for the EU, which will be enshrined in a Climate Law by March 2020, and is set to be the key policy of the new Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen.

European Green Deal to include new circular economy planThe strategy document states that the Green Deal is ‘a new growth strategy that aims to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use’.

Underpinning the commitments to achieving carbon neutrality will be a shift towards a greener, circular economy, which will see a transition to renewable energy, a revision of the Emission Trading System (ETS) to include the maritime sector and reduce free allowances for airlines, a green industrial strategy and new legislation on resources and waste.

As part of this, the Commission will launch a second Circular Economy Action and the 2020-2024 Ecodesign Working Plan in 2020.

The sustainable management of waste and use of resources is at the heart of the European Green Deal, with the Commission asserting that ‘where waste cannot be avoided, its economic value must be recovered and its impact on the environment and on climate change avoided or minimised’.

This will require new legislation and targets for tackling excessive use of packaging and waste generation, building on the ambitious targets set by the EU’s Circular Economy Package last year, which included a target to recycle 60 per cent of all municipal waste by 2030.

The Commission has stated that it will consider introducing a law requiring mandatory use of recycled content to boost the use of secondary raw materials in some areas, such as packaging or construction materials, while the Commission is also proposing to introduce an EU-wide model for the separate collection of waste and recycling, as well as revisiting the rules on waste shipments to stop exporting waste outside of the EU.

The Circular Economy Action Plan will also include a ‘sustainable products’ policy that will support circular design, strengthen extended producer responsibility in the areas of textiles, construction, electronics and plastics, ensure that all packaging on the EU market is reusable or recyclable by 2030, and develop a regulatory framework for biodegradable and bio-based plastics, as well as new measures on single-use plastics building on those in the EU’s Plastics Strategy.

It is notable that the European Green Deal doesn’t just focus on the need to increase recycling but acknowledges the need to prevent waste in the first place and change our relationship with consumption. The strategy states it will ‘analyse the need for a ‘right to repair’, and curb the built-in obsolescence of devices, in particular for electronics’ and explore ‘New business models based on renting and sharing goods and services’.

The Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy will also seek to drive sustainable food consumption while reducing food waste throughout the food supply chain.

The Communication underlines that the current details represent ‘an initial roadmap of the key policies and measures needed to achieve the European Green Deal’ and the Deal will be updated ‘as needs evolve’.

‘A good starting point’

The European Green Deal has been welcomed by environmental groups and those in the resources and waste sector, though many caution that more work needs to be done on the imperfect document.

"This is a significant moment both for the environment and for the EU as Ursula von der Leyen has rightly chosen to make the European Green Deal her Commission’s defining policy,” said Jeremy Wates, Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). “While the Green Deal clearly falls short of adequately addressing the challenges posed by the existential crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and toxic pollution, it does promise ‘deeply transformative policies’ in the future and is an important first step by the new Commission, even if the hard work of shaping and delivering those policies is still to come.

“Today’s Green Deal is far from a perfect document but for the most part provides a good starting point for further work. As regards its ultimate success, much will depend on the content of the more specific strategies that are foreseen to come out in the coming months.”

The European Federation of Waste Management (FEAD) has welcomed the ‘ambitious strategy’, emphasising that the circular economy ‘can only be achieved through stronger demand for recyclates, efficient markets and fair competition’ and calling for ‘strong and mandatory rules for eco-design’.

On energy recovery, FEAD’s position paper adds that ‘energy recovery of non-recyclable waste [should] be recognised as an indispensable tool for achieving recycling in a true circular economy’.

However, this is disputed by Zero Waste Europe, which believes emissions from waste incineration should be included in the ETS to drive better waste management – its latest paper claims that between 49 and 119 million tonnes of carbon dioxide was released by municipal solid waste incinerators in 2017. Janek Vahk, Coordinator of Climate, Energy and Air Pollution programme, said: "To achieve a real EU Green Deal, waste incineration has to be included in the EU ETS. It will not only help to reduce CO2 emissions in the sector but also drive a better waste management in Europe" .

EEB has also criticised the European Green Deal’s commitment to growth, with Global Policy Director Patrizia Heidegger saying: “What we need is a strategy to break free from ever-increasing consumption and economic expansion and to establish a society in which we live well within the planet’s limits, so it’s disappointing to see the Green Deal referred to as a ‘growth strategy’ on its opening page. There is no empirical evidence to support the idea that decoupling economic growth from environmental pressures is possible on anywhere near the scale needed to deal with environmental breakdown.”

While welcoming the recognition of the need to increase product durability and support the ‘right to repair’, NGO network RREUSE has criticised the lack of detail on how this will be brought about and the failure to recognise existing social enterprises promoting reuse and repair. Michael Len, Director of RREUSE, said: “Explicitly recognising and supporting thousands of social enterprises already delivering significant environmental and social impact within their communities is essential in future measures under the Green Deal”.

“While it’s promising to see support for designing durable, repairable and reuseable goods, the Green Deal also falls short in terms of product reuse with no explicit backing for second-hand, albeit mentioning the importance of adopting ‘sustainable behaviours’.”

You can read the full European Commission Communication on the European Green Deal on the Commission website.

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