European Parliament votes through Circular Economy Package
The European Parliament has given the go-ahead to the EU’s landmark Circular Economy Package (CEP) after formally approving higher recycling targets and new measures to reduce waste across Europe today (18 April).
The Parliament ratified the targets agreed upon following the end of three-way discussions known as trilogues between the European Council, Commission and Parliament back in December, which were then approved by EU ambassadors in February this year, in a plenary session today. A Monitoring Framework to measure the EU’s progress towards the CEP targets was also proposed by the European Commission in March, while a Plastics Strategy was agreed at the start of March, with an aim of making all plastic packaging recyclable by 2030.
A circular economy implies reducing waste to a minimum as well as re-using, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products. The EU hopes that moving towards a more circular economy will reduce pressure on the environment, enhance security of supply of raw materials, increase competitiveness, innovation and growth, and create jobs.
Environment ministers from all the 28 EU countries are also expected to formally approve the agreement in the coming weeks, before the laws can officially be transposed into national legislation within 24 months from that moment. It will enter into force 20 days after its publication in the Official Journal.
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. Confusion over the headline target has been apparent in recent weeks, with many reporting the 65 per cent figure as the 2035 target, as opposed to the 2030 target.
Specific targets for packaging for 2030 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.
“With this package, Europe is firmly committed to sustainable economic and social development, which will at last integrate industrial policies and environmental protection”, said lead MEP Simona Bonafè. “The circular economy is not only a waste management policy, but is a way to recover raw materials and not to overstretch the already scarce resources of our planet, also by profoundly innovating our production system.
“This package also contains important measures on waste management, but at the same time goes further, by defining rules taking into account the entire life cycle of a product and aims to change the behaviour of businesses and consumers. For the first time, member states will be obliged to follow a single, shared legislative framework”
And, despite uncertainty over the UK’s future relationship with the EU post-Brexit, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has confirmed that the UK will be signing up to the CEP and its binding targets. Given that the UK will no longer be part of the EU by the time legislation is brought into force, and certainly won’t be by 2030, it remains to be seen how committed to achieving the targets the UK remains and what kind of measures could legally be imposed by the EU in the event that the UK fails to meet the targets.
‘The real work starts now’
The response to the news has been resoundingly positive, although some would like to see the CEP be more ambitious in its targets and objectives.
Commenting on the news, Piotr Barczak, Waste Policy Officer at the European Environmental Bureau, said: “After years of discussions, it is now time for EU countries to walk the talk on waste reduction. These laws are necessary to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues such as pollution in our cities and environment.
“Cities across Europe have already made steps forward to reduce waste and improve recycling. The new laws could have been more ambitious, but their successful implementation will help governments consolidate this progress with benefits for the people and society as a whole.”
Meanwhile, Ferran Rosa, Waste Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe, displayed cautious optimism, saying: “We have a Circular Economy Package, now it is time to make the circular economy come true. The real work starts now, with the implementation of the approved legislation, which needs to become a priority for every national and local government in Europe.
“The transposition is just a formality, the real test will be for Member States to change the way they deal with natural resources, to phase out landfilling and incineration while promoting better product design and the right economic incentives”.
“The waste package is an important step towards a strong and competitive circular economy,” added Umberto Raiteri, CEO of the European Recycling Platform (ERP), who also expressed his satisfaction that problem waste streams such as packaging waste, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and batteries would be targeted and further efforts would be made to divert material out of landfill and incineration.
He added: “We especially welcome the agreement to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of all relevant stakeholders and the strong commitment to the principle of extended producer responsibility."
Michal Len, Director of RREUSE, a pan-European organisation representing social enterprises active in reuse, repair and recycling, while lamenting a lack of ambition, was buoyed by the fact that member states appear to be going beyond requirements set for reuse of their own accord, adding: “Once these legal updates are officially published, reuse and preparing for reuse activities can no longer be treated as afterthoughts.”
“Mandatory reporting of preparing for reuse rates separate to that of recycling, as well as future development of indicators by the Commission to measure reuse activities, are just a handful of new provisions that should inspire concrete conversation and action at national level, extending product lifetimes and creating local jobs.”
“Whilst more ambition should have been reflected in the final text, member states will have the opportunity to go above and beyond the new rules during transposition and are encouraged to look to countries and regions which, for example, are already setting quantitative targets for preparing for reuse.”
The European Organization for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN) Chairman Hans van Bochove (Coca-Cola European Partners), commented: “After almost three years of negotiations, this adoption represents a significant step for the EU packaging supply chain towards a circular economy. We welcome in particular the introduction of EPR general minimum requirements in legislation, which will increase transparency, cost-efficiency, accountability, and enforcement of EPR obligations at national level. We regret however the remaining unclear demarcation of producers’ financial obligations, which could potentially be extended beyond producers’ roles and responsibilities at national level.
“The adoption of the revised EU legislation is only the end of the beginning. We need now to ensure that the EPR general minimum requirements are implemented in a full, fair and harmonised manner across the EU, so as to create an effective level playing field among the various EPR systems, help achieve the increased packaging recycling targets and publicly stated corporate targets, as well as further boost a viable secondary raw material market.”
Packaging producers had been concerned that the package could lead to disproportionately punitive measures taken against packaging producers, but back in December it was announced that the Internal Market would be retained as the legal base for the revised Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD), part of the CEP, a reassurance that has now been confirmed. Virginia Janssens, EUROPEN Managing Director, commented: “We are pleased that a proper functioning of a strong Internal Market is recognized as a prerequisite to ensure scalability for investment and innovation needed to move towards a circular economy. The Internal Market principle safeguards maximum harmonisation, which is in turn crucial to provide companies in the packaging value chain across Europe the right policy framework to meet both the environmental and economic objectives of the Circular Economy Package.”