Circular economy package: Policy priorities for the UK

The European Commission's long-awaited circular economy package must take into consideration renewable and decentralised energy, economic growth and voluntary agreements as a means to minimise waste across the continent.

Those were some of the views put forward in a Parliamentary seminar held in Westminster yesterday (15 July), which saw experts from WRAP, Viridor and the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) come together to discuss how the UK could influence the EU circular economy package, expected by the end of 2015.

With the EU Commission’s public consultation on the circular economy package currently open, Viridor’s director of external affairs Dan Cooke opened yesterday’s discussion with an important point about clarifying what a circular economy would look like in practice.

“The circular economy is in danger of being all things to all men,” said Cooke. “We are becoming unclear about the exact definition and scope of the circular economy. It is, in its new form, extremely broad and has some fairly vague parameters. There is little or no mention in the papers emerging so far about what the circular economy actually is, and what we’re aiming for.”

Cooke added that the role of energy – especially renewable and decentralised energy – should form a “crucial” part of the move towards a circular economy.

“At the moment, energy is largely excluded from the discussions and consultations. Surely energy and the circular economy package have to be more closely aligned. It has to be at the heart of the package – that’s one thing the Government can help to put a case for.”

Voluntary agreements

Next up to speak was Liz Goodwin, chief executive of WRAP. Goodwin reiterated the need for “tried and tested sector commitments”, which could be tailored to meet the needs of EU regions or Member States, rather than one overriding legislative target.

Goodwin highlighted how food waste would need to be a part of one of those specific sector commitments and she pointed to voluntary agreements – such as WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment – as a way of driving reductions. “Without the likes of Courtauld, the UK would be languishing in mid-table in food waste reduction, but with it, we are world leaders,” she said.

“Well-designed and well-run voluntary agreements can be a powerful lever for change. They allow businesses to work together to come up with solutions to problems in a way that works for the sector and consumers – all for the benefit of the environment, the economy, and society as a whole.”

Debt crisis

Next up to speak was EIC chief executive Matthew Farrow, who was keen to highlight his concerns surrounding the UK’s “lack of political momentum” on waste. “The Tory manifesto in the last election had nothing to say on waste,” said Farrow. “Even the Labour one, which had some good stuff on a lot of environmental issues, wasn’t very detailed on waste.”

With Greece’s debt crisis continuing to escalate, Farrow also highlighted the need to provide country-specific waste targets and to align the new circular economy package with wider economic growth, against such an uneasy backdrop.

“Stating the obvious, Europe is not in a good place. It’s hard to have a debate about the circular economy package this without recognising what’s happening on the TV with Greece. Personally, I believe a two-speed set of targets would make more sense in this scenario.

“We have to recognise that Europe is in a difficult place and I suspect this will impact what’s in the package. I would like to see a very strong argument put forward around the alignment between the circular economy and economic growth.”

Storify: #AskFranz

The original proposal for a Circular Economy Package was scrapped in December 2014, amid claims it only addressed ‘half the circle’. The upcoming package will reportedly look beyond waste policy and address the full product lifecycle, taking into account the situation in all Member States, as promised back in March.

With speculation about what the new package will look like continuing to mount, Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans yesterday took part in a live Twitter debate, answering questions on potential waste targets, the role of business and consumer behaviour change.

Luke Nicholls

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