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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Between 20% and 50% of all waste generated in the global South is managed through small-scale waste picking activities. Image: BVRio

New platform to help corporates forge circular economy partnerships

Environmental NGO BVRio has launched a new online platform connecting circular economy projects with corporates and impact investors, whose aim is to help small programmes scale-up and large organisations put sufficient finance behind their resource goals.

Microsoft seems to be reshaping its sustainability strategy a little at a time, having set new climate targets earlier this year

Microsoft vows to become a 'zero-waste' business by 2030

Microsoft has pledged to bring its direct waste footprint to zero within a decade, as part of a new resources strategy which will boost the recyclability of its devices and see plastic packaging phased out entirely.

Recycling levels have languished in England for several years and the country is currently not on track to achieve its recycling target of 50% by 2020

UK targets 65% municipal waste recycling rates under EU's circular economy package

The UK Government has today (30 July) agreed to transpose aspects of the European Union's Circular Economy Package into UK law, agreeing on targets to recycle 65% of household waste by 2035 and to allow a maximum of 10% municipal waste going to landfill in the same timeframe.

Current commitments would only affect 7% of annual plastic production by 2040, the report warns

Amount of plastics in oceans will quadruple by 2040, major new research finds

The world's plastic pollution problem is vastly outpacing efforts to stop it, meaning that the volume of plastics in oceans globally will be four times higher in 2040 than in 2016, new research backed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has concluded.

innocent's sustainability cheerleader Katie Leggett talks edie through the report

'Good all round': Exploring Innocent Drinks' first sustainability report

EXCLUSIVE: Innocent drinks has launched its first "good all round" report, the company's innovative take on the traditional sustainability report outlining progress against its carbon-neutral, circular economy and staff engagement ambitions.

The need for additional training is most pronounced in the transport, mining and built environment sectors

1 in 10 jobs at risk without 'green' reskilling, Mayors warn Treasury

Up to 2.2 million Brits could face unemployment unless the UK's Covid-19 recovery package contains measures to reskill them for "green-collar" roles, Mayors and council leaders representing 25 million residents have warned.

The commitments will be supported through the Science Based Targets initiative

L'Oréal targets carbon neutrality by 2025 under new sustainability strategy

Global cosmetic firm L'Oréal has unveiled a new sweeping set of sustainability targets, pledging to reach carbon neutrality by 2025, halve carbon emissions, use 100% renewables and ensure all plastic packaging comes from recycled or bio-based sources.

Amazon to invest $2bn in low-carbon innovations

Amazon will invest at least $2bn (£1.6bn) in smaller firms creating technologies or services aimed at reducing carbon emissions to net-zero, the e-commerce giant announced on Tuesday (23 June).

#SustyTalk: Farfetch's Tom Berry on spurring circular economy models for fashion

edie's #SustyTalk interview series continues with Farfetch's global director of sustainable business Tom Berry, who discusses circular economy engagement and innovation in the fashion sector.

The secondhand luxury fashion market is currently worth $24bn and is growing more rapidly than the primary luxury fashion market

Fashion footprint: Farfetch's new tool to highlight the environmental impact of clothing

Luxury fashion platform Farfetch has launched a new tool helping online customers to choose products with lower environmental impacts, including secondhand goods and those made using innovative renewable materials.

Solar panel installation, Tetra Pak site. Image: Tetra Pak

Tetra Pak targets net-zero value chain by 2050

Packaging firm Tetra Pak has today (11 June) committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across its operations by 2030, with a longer-term target to achieve a net-zero emissions value chain by 2050.

Currently, 71% of the silver and gold in Pandora’s jewellery comes from recycled source

Pandora to reduce emissions by sourcing only recycled gold and silver

The world's largest jewellery brand, Pandora, has announced plans to stop sourcing mined silver and gold in its products by 2025, a move that is expected to cut its emissions from the use of the materials by more than two-thirds.

More than one million plastic-free PPE visors will be produced each week

World's first plastic-free PPE equipment launched to combat coronavirus pandemic

The world's first plastic-free PPE protective equipment has been launched today by campaign group A Plastic Planet, in a bid to assist the fight against coronavirus without harming the natural environment.

The partnership will build on Ikea’s efforts to embrace the circular economy to date.

Ikea launches circular economy strategic partnership with Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Ikea is building on a commitment to becoming a fully circular business by 2030 by announcing a new strategic partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that will focus on advocating for closed-loop home furnishing designs and methods to promote circular offers to customers.

Dow Polyurethanes expects its first batch of Renuva polyols to be delivered in early 2021

Dow targets industrial-scale mattress recycling initiative

Dow Polyurethanes, a business division of chemical giant Dow has announced plans to create an industrial-scale recycling facility in France to treat discarded mattress foam to be used in a range of applications.

Zalando’s online platform caters to 28 million customers in 17 markets

Zalando and Sustainable Apparel Coalition issue sustainable metrics for brands and retailers

German online fashion retailer Zalando has confirmed it will be the first retailer signed up to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) to use a new module that will make sustainability assessments mandatory for its private labels and partner brands sold on its platform.

The guide concludes with an industry viewpoint and two case studies provided by Reconomy

edie launches new business guide to embracing the circular economy

Organisations looking to accelerate the transition to a circular economy now have access to a comprehensive 'edie explains' guide which breaks down everything there is to know about achieving a zero-waste world.

edie Explains: The circular economy

This new and updated edie Explains guide breaks down everything there is to know about achieving a circular economy for your business.

Klyk has joined the O2 Direct Partner Network, where it will offer its closed-loop solution to O2 clients 

O2 targets e-waste with new Klyk partnership

O2 has agreed to a new partnership with technology refurbishment start-up Klyk to tackle the growing issue of electronic waste (e-waste) in the sector.

The document outlines sweeping green policy changes across energy, buildings and transport

Europe's draft 'green recovery' plan leaked

The European Commission's promised green recovery plan will focus on building renovation, renewables and hydrogen as well as clean mobility and the circular economy, according to a leaked working document obtained by EURACTIV.

Sessions across all three days are available to watch on-demand for those who have registered 

Available to watch on-demand: All Three days of of online Net-Zero Week events

Net-Zero Week was a themed week of editorial content and events dedicated to informing, inspiring and empowering sustainability and energy professionals on the road to a net-zero carbon future for their business, featuring three afternoons of online sessions which are available to watch on-demand.

The sessions will be available to watch on-demand for those who have registered

Today at 1pm: Circular Economy online event featuring Hubbub, Amcor and Canary Wharf Group

Sustainability professionals and circular economy experts from a range of organisations and businesses across the value chain are set to appear on edie's Circular Economy online event, taking place on Thursday 21 May.

#SustyTalk: Amcor's David Clark on strengthening the circular economy during lockdown

edie's #SustyTalk interview series continues with packaging firm Amcor's vice president for sustainability David Clark discussing the role of the circular economy as part of a green economic response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The two companies believe that up to 30,000 tonnes of currently non-recyclable plastic could be treated annually

Viridor signs agreement on UK plastics chemical recycling initiative

Waste management firm Viridor has agreed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with chemical recycling company Plastic Energy to explore a system that treats non-recycled plastic waste using low-carbon electricity to create recycled plastic feedstocks.

Each of these success stories exemplifies how businesses are ramping up ambitions and actions in all areas of sustainable development 

Oxford's zero-carbon homes and L'Oreal's eco-fund: The sustainability success stories of the week

As part of our Mission Possible campaign, edie brings you this weekly round-up of five of the best sustainability success stories of the week from across the globe.

The funds and actions will build into a new global sustainability strategy for 2030 that will be launched by L’Oréal next month

L'Oréal launches €150m social and environmental fund to support coronavirus response

Global cosmetic firm L'Oréal has noted the need to focus on regenerating the environment while also supporting those impacted by the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus, and has responded by launching a €50m social fund to support vulnerable women and a €100m environment fund.