Circular Economy Package

DEFINITION: Proposed EU legislation which includes revised legislative proposals on waste to stimulate Europe's transition towards a circular economy which will boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs.

The Circular Economy Package: A potted history…

Although waste management across the EU has improved considerably over the past couple of decades, almost a third of municipal waste is still landfilled and less than half is recycled or composted, with wide variations between Member States.

In 2014, the European Commission (EC) put forward an initial Circular Economy Package to address the issue and help European businesses and consumers make the transition to a circular economy where waste is seen as a ‘resource’ that can be recycled, re-used or remanufactured.

In December 2015, the EU controversially withdrew the Circular Economy Package and re-tabled a revised version. The Commission claimed the new recycling targets would present a stiff but achievable challenge for some Member States, but green groups said that the only ambition shown had been for “watering down” targets.

The Package will be backed by €5.5bn from the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) and €650m from Horizon 2020 (the EU funding programme for research and innovation). 

What is the current state of play with EU waste policy?

The 2008 Waste Framework Directive sets the overarching legislative framework for EU waste policy. The Directive sets binding targets to be achieved by 2020: preparing for reuse and recycling of 50% of certain waste materials from households and similar sources, and preparing for reuse, recycling and other recovery of 70% of construction and demolition waste.

Meanwhile, the 1999 Landfill Directive bans landfilling of untreated waste. The Directive sets a goal that the share of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfills may not be greater than 35% in 2016, compared to the baseline year of 1995.

The Packaging Waste Directive waste aims to protect the environment and to safeguard the functioning of the internal market. It requires Member States to take measures to prevent packaging waste and to develop packaging reuse systems.

When will the Package be enforced?

The Package is currently going through the EU legislative process. Before the Circular Economy Package is passed into law, all three European institutions (the European Council, European Parliament and the European Commission) must have an agreed stance, which they will then take into a series of discussions.

Both European Parliament and Council of Ministers can amend the legislation but must agree upon an identical text before those bills can become law. This means that a final package will likely not be established until the second half of 2017. Malta, which holds the rotating EU Presidency, has said it will try to reach a deal with MEPs before 1 July, when its six-month Presidential term ends.

Who does the Package effect?

The targets listed under the Circular Economy Package will be implemented by national governments across the 28 Member States that are in Europe, and are targeted at the waste performance of households and businesses.

It is anticipated that the measures set out in the Circular Economy Package will be completed before the UK leaves the EU, so the UK will be obliged to give effect to them for as long as it remains in the EU (see more on Brexit at the end of this article).

What are the targets listed under the Package?

The original Circular Economy Package intended to increase recycling levels and tighten rules on incineration and landfill. It consists of six individual bills on waste, packaging, landfill, end-of-life vehicles, batteries and accumulators, and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

The re-tabled package, unveiled in December 2015, included eco-design rules for products to make them easier to recycle. But it also had lower 2030 targets for recycling municipal and packaging waste, and replaced a 2025 aspirational landfill reduction target of 25% with a mandatory 10% goal for 2030.

But in a new development this week (14 March), Members of the Parliament (MEPs) unanimously rejected these ”watered-down” ambitions. The plenary vote has advocated to reinstate the 70% target for municipal waste recycling, strengthening current proposals by 5%.

Meanwhile, a 2030 target for packaging recycling was voted to be 80% - higher than the 75% previously backed by the Commission. And the waste-to-landfill target has been restricted to 5%, replacing a mandatory target of 10% by 2030. MEPs have also voted for a European Union (EU) food waste reduction target of 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030, compared to 2014.

The Package also includes a series of other measures and targets, including:

  • The promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling;
  • A ban on landfilling of separately collected waste;
  • Simplified and improved definitions and harmonised calculation methods for recycling rates throughout the EU;
  • Concrete measures to promote re-use and stimulate industrial symbiosis - turning one industry's by-product 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).

Are those circular economy targets legally-binding?

Four legislative proposals contained in the Package are legal acts: Waste Framework Directive; Landfilling Directive; Packaging Waste Directive; Directives on end-of-life vehicles, on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators, and on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

However, the 2030 food waste targets are only a voluntary aim, and campaigners are now calling for the 50% reduction target to become legally-binding at Member State level.

What are the pros and cons of the Package?

The proposed actions aim to contribute to "closing the loop" of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy. The Commission states that the measures could bring net savings of €600bn or 8% of annual turnover for businesses in the EU and will reduce total annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4%.

But the financial benefits of the Package at a national level are less clear. According to one recent report from UK-based organisation Policy Exchange, British businesses could in fact lose as much as £2bn over the next 20 years as a result of the Package. Policy Exchange’s head of environment and energy Howard told edie that the EU Package is “ill-defined”, “poorly thought through” and ultimately represents a poor waste management system for the UK.

A number of other serious side-effects to the Package have been highlighted by UK waste experts, such as the use of European weight-based recycling targets, which often focus recycling on heavier materials whether or not they are the highest environmental priority.

Given that the UK is currently struggling with some of the existing recycling targets, it remains to be seen whether the UK Government would benefit from the implementation of these new measures in the run up to, and after, leaving the EU.

How will Brexit impact the UK’s involvement in the Circular Economy Package?

The UK Government is expected to trigger its two-year negotiation period for leaving the EU this month, giving a departure date of early 2019.

If the UK wishes to continue participation in the single market, it would need to sign up to the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement (EEAA). A quick look at the current state of legislation confirms that if the UK adopted this route post-Brexit, actually very little would change in relation to environmental controls and the majority of legislative proposals that form part of the Package once enacted would continue to apply to the UK.

However, the big stumbling block with EEA membership will be the requirement to adhere to the principle of the free movement of people. Many EU leaders have stated publicly that the UK will not be allowed to introduce such controls which would conflict with the free movement principle if it wishes to join the EEA. For that reason, membership of the EEA at the moment seems very unlikely.

As a result, the UK would not be directly bound by many of the EU environmental controls, including those relating to the Circular Economy Package. If concepts in the Package, such as minimum recycled content in certain products, are brought forward, then these obligations would apply indirectly to the UK because they would affect products being supplied into the EU. However, other elements of the Package, such as recycling targets, would not directly apply to the UK and the level of ambition in this area would be left in the Government’s hands.

The likelihood is that, even without a direct or indirect obligation from the EU to adopt the Circular Economy Package, the UK will need to take its own steps to incorporate the circular economy concept into its own policies and from there to introduce its own legal controls.

See also: Circular economy

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The Halo capsules can discarded in home food bins when used, with each capsule biodegrading completely within three months. Photo Halo Coffee

Could this compostable coffee capsule solve the great circular economy challenge?

As the coffee cup recycling debate continues to grab national headlines, a new eco-innovation has launched which could set a new standard for another key circular economy conundrum: non-biodegradable coffee capsules.

The Committee is calling in businesses to provide evidence on how the public and private sector can work to introduce policies that reduce waste and increase awareness among the public

MPs probe circular economy progress on plastic bottles and coffee cups

The war on packaging waste has entered Westminster this week as MPs have launched a fresh inquiry into the environmental impact of plastic bottle and coffee cup waste.

The firms will aim to introduce 5,000 metric tonnes of bio-based plastic to the global market

Danone and Nestlé Waters pursue 100% bio-based plastic bottle rollout

Multi-national food company Danone has teamed up with the bottled water division of the Nestlé Group and a Californian start-up company to launch a new alliance aimed at commercialising 100% bio-based plastic bottles.

The European approach towards waste is hampered by unclear objectives, poor data and definitions and a failure to reflect the UK context, Policy Exchange contends

Report: Brexit offers escape hatch from £2bn EU waste policy costs

British businesses would lose as much as £2bn over the next 20 years through the EU's Circular Economy Package, according to a new report from think-tank Policy Exchange, which is calling on the UK to adopt a better waste and resource management framework post-Brexit.

Defra’s long-awaited 25-Year Environment Plan has been delayed by the BRexit vote, leaving uncertainty as to whether environmental protections provided by the EU will be maintained

Five green policy priorities to stop Brexit ruining our environment

From the delivery of an ambitious 25-Year Environment Plan to the avoidance of ineffective 'zombie legislation', Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) executive director Matthew Farrow outlines the key steps that must be taken by the Government to ensure Britain's exit from the EU will not have a negative impact on our environment.

The new trays will consist of 25% ocean waste and 75% HDPE plastics to enhance the recyclability of the products. Image Dell

Dell delivers tech industry's first ocean plastic packaging

Computer firm Dell has achieved a new first for the technology industry, after converting waste plastic found on beaches and in waterways into new packaging for one of its laptop products.

The paper calls for a re-think on the tonnage-based EU waste targets to incorporate measures focused on wider environmental goals such as CO2 impacts

UK should consider new 2025 recycling targets, claims EIC

The UK should consult on new recycling targets for 2025 to boost investor confidence in the waste sector, according to a new report from the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC).

The new H&M Conscious Exclusive collection (left) and Mango's new Committed Life collection (right) are a step in the right direction for the wasteful fast fashion industry. Photos: H&M/Mango

Sustainably attired: H&M and Mango launch ethical fashion collections

Multinational clothing brands H&M and Mango have unveiled new sustainable fashion collections made from organic and recycled materials.

Lord Teverson claims that trade deals with United Nations members could see the environmental performance of policies and products downsized

UK must play 'careful game' to balance green policy and new trade deals

EXCLUSIVE: In its pursuit of new trade deals post-Brexit, the UK must be careful that product and resource standards don't handicap businesses from exporting back into Europe, the chair of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee has warned.

First Mile's chief commercial officer Joe Allen (left) and Caffè Nero's commercial director Matt Spencer (right) are pleased by the success of the ongoing partnership

Caffé Nero reports coffee-waste-to-biofuel success, plans expansion

Italian-style coffee shop chain Caffé Nero is looking to extend an innovative coffee-to-biofuel recycling scheme beyond greater London after a successful partnership with recycling company First Mile and technology firm Bio-Bean.

Coffee cups will be collected by Costa staff and taken back-of-house to be stored upside down in racks, to ensure they are free from contamination

Costa goes nationwide with in-store coffee cup recycling scheme

Coffee shop chain Costa Coffee has taken a huge step forward in the war on waste coffee cups with the rollout of a pioneering cup recycling scheme to more than 2,000 of its stores across the UK.

A range of resource-efficient business models exist; businesses need to examine consumer attitudes towards them

WRAP: Consumer demand creating economic opportunities for resource management

The private sector can progress waste reduction methods and promote recycling and reuse by building new business models around the consumer, WRAP's technical specialist Greg Lucas has claimed.

PwC currently recycles or reuses around 85% of the waste it produces, generating £500,000 for the firm annually in the process

Going Circular: PwC's staff engagement success story

As part of edie's engagement month of editorial content, Matt Mace takes a closer look at the innovative behaviour change approaches being adopted by PwC as the professional services firm seeks to mobilise waste reduction efforts of thousands of staff members to deliver a closed-loop organisation.

The Warp It scheme has saved customers £8m in avoided procurement costs since it formed in 2011, and facilitated the donation of £1.2m in assets to charity

Online reuse hub could save universities £1m in 2017

British universities have been tasked with saving £1m this year by internally sharing resources through an online reuse scheme.

Carbon fibre composite, a combination of carbon fibres and a polymer matrix, is growing rapidly in transport and renewable energy applications

How can we deliver a circular economy for novel materials?

The UK Government must embed circular economy thinking within its industrial strategy and place a particular focus on encouraging the recycling and recovery of 'novel' materials such as bioplastics and carbon fibre, a new report has claimed.

Therese Coffey, pictured here, was due to speak at the launch event of a new Aldersgate Group report today, but was unwell

Businesses must lead Britain's resource revolution, claims Defra minister

The UK's ambition to become one of the most resource-efficient economies in the world must be led by private-sector innovation, according to Defra Resource Minister Therese Coffey.

Covestro develops insulation foam capable of saving around 70 times more energy across the lifetime of the product

Closed-loop carbon: Where does CO2 fit within a low-carbon economy?

EXCLUSIVE: Businesses need to stop "demonising" carbon and should instead treat it as a valuable raw material that can enhance product specifications and cut key environmental footprints if treated correctly, a sustainability expert has said.

Research suggests that the European remanufacturing sector could be worth €90bn by 2030 if it receives cross-sector policy support and investment from industry

Business-led remanufacturing body launched to advise EU policy

Today (27 January) marks the launch of the European Remanufacturing Council (ERC), a new, industry-led body which plans to become the co-ordinated voice for the businesses that are currently producing £25.5bn of remanufactured goods.

In the UK, the number of plastic shopping bags handed out by retailers in England dropped from seven billion to just over half a billion within six months after the 5p charge was created

Plastic bag take-back: the next step towards a circular economy?

Plastic bag use is expected to fall significantly in Sweden after an innovative take-back trial conducted by Nottingham Trent University led to an 80% drop in consumer usage.

MEPs in Brussels voted to restore the lowered targets to the level of the original proposal

MEPs bolster EU recycling and landfill targets

Members of the European Parliament's Environment Committee yesterday (24 January) moved to increase draft EU recycling and landfill targets that had been lowered by the European Commission in its re-tabled Circular Economy Package.

Aldersgate Group calls for a new UK policy strategy which drives innovation on resource efficiency by helping businesses to gain improved access to financial advice

Resource efficiency could boost UK economy by £80bn by 2030, says Aldersgate Group

The UK economy could swell by nearly £80bn if the country adopts resource-efficient business models by 2030, according to the latest research by business alliance the Aldersgate Group.

P&G's new circular economy project will require a supply of 2,600 tons of PCR plastic every year – the same weight as eight fully loaded Boeing 747 jumbo jets

P&G develops world's first recyclable shampoo bottle made from beach plastic

The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G) has today (19 January) announced that it will be mass-producing the world's first recyclable shampoo bottle made from up to 25% post-consumer recycled (PCR) beach plastic.

Britain alone disposes of around 350,000 tonnes of medium-density fibreboard every year

Could this MDF recycling innovation solve a circular economy conundrum for retailers?

A breakthrough technology that recycles medium-density fibreboard (MDF) can deliver a commercially-viable process to recover wood fibre from the material, according to the solution's creator.

The European Commission building in Brussels. Campaigners are calling for Europe's food waste reduction target to be legally-binding at a Member State level

Halve European food waste by 2030, green groups urge MEPs ahead of crucial vote

Ahead of the European Parliament's (EP) landmark vote on key food waste regulations next week, a union of organisations have today (18 January) backed calls for a 50% food waste reduction across the continent by 2030.

Unilever last year achieved its commitment of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill across its manufacturing operations. Photo: unilever.co.uk

Unilever commits to 100% recyclable plastic packaging by 2025

On the same day that the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) unveiled a business-backed action plan to crack down on plastic waste, global consumer goods giant Unilever has made a bold new pledge to ensure that 100% of its plastic packaging is fully re-usable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

The New Plastics Economy: Catalysing action

This new report is one of the first key deliverables of the New Plastics Economy initiative.It represents a logical next step to the 2016 report: from rethinking the future of plastics to catalysing action.

The report estimates that $80-120bn of plastic packaging material value is lost to the economy due to a linear, take-make-dispose value chain

New Plastics Economy: Businesses support action plan to recycle 70% of global plastic packaging

A cross-sector coalition of multinational businesses have today (16 January) thrown their weight behind the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's new global action plan to recycle and re-use 70% of the world's plastic packaging.

The ESA aims put evidence in front of Defra to make extended producer responsibility (EPR) a centrepiece of the department’s proposed 25-year plan

New year, new direction: ESA chairman Stewart Davies outlines circular economy prospects for 2017

In an exclusive interview for an upcoming episode of the Sustainable Business Covered podcast, edie sits down with Stewart Davies, the new chairman of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), to discuss his thoughts on the year ahead for nation's circular economy progress.

P&G's zero-waste pledge comes off the back of a series of significant environmental milestones and pledges announced by the consumer goods business

P&G steps up circular economy commitment with bold zero-waste pledge

Multinational consumer goods firm P&G has announced a major environmental New Year's Resolution: to effectively eliminate all manufacturing waste from its global network of more than 100 production sites by 2020.

The reCup is expected to be sold in the UK at a cost comparable with traditional paper cups

'Game-changing' coffee cup project to provide retailers with cost-effective recycling service

The UK could be set for a coffee cup recycling revolution as British paper cup recycler Simply Cups has thrown its weight behind a project that provides businesses and consumers with a cup that can be recycled at traditional paper mills.