EU unveils new €6bn circular economy package

The European Commission has launched its much-anticipated circular economy package, including weakened recycling targets, tools to halve food waste by 2030, and measures to promote reparability in the design phase of products.

Launched today in Brussels, the plan aims to “close the loop of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy”.

The Commission said that waste prevention, ecodesign, re-use and similar measures could bring net savings of €600bn, or 8% of annual turnover, for businesses in the EU, while reducing total annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4 %.

In the sectors of re-use and repair, for example, the cost of remanufacturing mobile phones could be halved if it were easier to take them apart. If 95% of mobile phones were collected, this could generate savings on manufacturing material costs of more than €1 billion.

EC vice-president Frans Timmermans who led the development of the package, said: “Our planet and our economy cannot survive if we continue with the ‘take, make, use and throw away’ approach.

 “By rethinking the way we produce, work and buy we can generate new opportunities and create new jobs. With today’s package, we are delivering the comprehensive framework that will truly enable this change to happen. 

The package will receive €5.5bn from the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) and €650 million from Horizon 2020 (the EU funding programme for research and innovation). 

What’s in the package?


The headline figure is a common EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030; a significant downgrade from the binding 70% target proposed in the scrapped 2014 package.

There is also a binding target to reduce landfill to maximum of 10% of all waste by 2030; another downgrade from the original proposals which called for a total ban on landfill waste.

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder said: “We were promised a more ambitious package, but the only ambition shown here has been for watering down targets.

“Europe must not waste this opportunity to protect the planet’s resources and end the throwaway society.

Food waste

The package proposes several measures to reduce food waste, including the creation of common measurement methodology, improved date marking, and ‘tools’ to meet the global Sustainable Development Goal to halve food waste by 2030.

It also calls for measures to facilitate the redistribution of safe, edible food to people in need and, the use of foodwaste as a resource for animal feed. 

No specific targets for food waste reduction are included in the package. Around 100 million tonnes of food are wasted annually in the EU

Improved design

As suggested by the Green Alliance, the package calls for new measures that will promote reparability, durability and recyclability to be built into products from the outset.

During his speech, Timmermans specifically criticised products that are designed to fail as soon as their warranty has lapsed.

Specifically these measures will be built into the Ecodesign Directive which currently tries to improve the energy efficiency of consumer goods.

Market levers

The package introduces a variety of market mechanisms designed to encourage ‘circular’ behaviour.

This includes economic instruments to discourage landfilling (think landfill tax) and incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery schemes (e.g. for packaging, batteries, and electronic equipment).

Other measures

  • Support the higher uptake of green public procurement and increase its focus on issues related to the circular
  • The development of quality standards for secondary raw materials to increase the confidence of operators in the single market.
  • A new strategy on plastics in the circular economy, addressing issues of recyclability, biodegradability, the presence of hazardous substances in plastics, and the Sustainable Development Goals target for significantly reducing marine litter.
  • A series of actions on water reuse including a legislative proposal on minimum requirements for the reuse of wastewater.
  • Concrete measures to promote re-use and stimulate industrial symbiosis –turning one industry’s by-product into another industry’s raw material, as suggested by Defra


As well as the aforementioned waste savings and resource benfits, the EC expects the proposals to generate thousands of new jobs.

WRAP estimates that a European transition to the circular economy could create three million extra jobs by 2030 and reduce unemployment by 520,000

The EC vice president responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen, said: “These proposals give a positive signal to those waiting to invest in the circular economy.

“The job creation potential of the circular economy is huge, and the demand for better, more efficient products and services is booming. We will remove barriers that make it difficult for businesses to optimise their resource use and we will boost the internal market for secondary raw materials. “

The draft legislation will now be debated and amended by MEPs and ministers in the EU Council.

Brad Allen

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