European Commission scraps Circular Economy Package, ‘more ambitious’ proposal awaits

The European Commission has today (16 December) confirmed it is scrapping plans to introduce a Circular Economy Package, instead announcing it will launch a 'broader and more ambitious' waste package next year.

Speaking at the plenary session of the European Commission’s Work Programme for 2015, Vice-President of the Commission Frans Timmermans said he wanted the circular economy to be ‘approached in a circular way – not just half the circle’. (Scroll down for video).

“We are proposing to withdraw the existing proposal on the circular economy to make way for a broader and more ambitious approach that can be more effective,” said Timmermans. “This means that we will withdraw the present waste proposal and come back with a more ambitious proposal that will cover the whole of the circular economy.

“We will do this in 2015 – we will not drag our feet with this because we want the circular economy to be in pole position when the Junker plan is being put into effect so that the economy that can profit from investment is smack in the middle of the circular economy.”

Crying shame

Dutch politician Timmermans, who is deputy to new European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, also confirmed the European Commission is delaying action plans on tackling air pollution.

He sealed the fate of the Circular Economy Package after weeks of speculation from the resource and environmental management industry and green groups, with advocators claiming the proposed Package offered potential for green job creation, resource security, environmental protection and economic growth.

Timmermans had to pause for contestation from the Parliament’s hemicycle while making the announcement. “Let me finish, then you can cry shame,” he said.

“If we withdraw the waste package it’s because we want to put something on the table that is more ambitious and really has a huge contribution on part of the European economy that really needs a boost, which is the circular economy. We can do this in line with the Junker plan – I’m deeply convinced of this.

“No shame? Good. We will present this more ambitious proposal next year.”

Unhelpful uncertainty

More ambitious the next proposals may be, but the Environmental Services Association (ESA) – the voice of the UK’s resource and waste management industry – has been quick to express its regret about the uncertainty created by this announcement.

ESA’s Europe Policy Adviser Roy Hathaway said: “While it is reassuring to hear that the Commission plans to bring back the Circular Economy proposals in a broader and more ambitious form in 2015, rather than abandon them altogether, the uncertainty around what this means is not helpful.

“The Commission’s previous proposals were not perfect, but the direction of travel they set was right, and would have helped encourage private sector investment in better resource management.”

ESA was one of a number of organisations – including big businesses such as Ikea and Unilever – that publicly opposed the European Commission’s plans to axe the existing proposals.

Zero Waste Scotland has echoed the ESA’s views, with chief executive Iain Gulland stating: “The European Commission’s previous package, which has just been withdrawn, represented a heightened ambition to develop a circular economy across Europe, and we don’t want to lose momentum on this important agenda.

“We look forward to seeing proposals early next year from the EC which it claims will strike an even more ambitious note, while individual member states and regions like Scotland can continue to pursue their own plans.”

Cameron’s silence

Friends of the Earth has also condemned the Commission’s to delay its plans, with the organisation’s executive director Andy Atkins claiming action on air pollution and using resource efficiency ‘is urgently needed’ throughout Europe.

“These crucial plans should have been fast-tracked, not parked,” said Atkins. “Careful resource use is crucial for the long-term wellbeing of both our economy and environment – it’s little wonder so many forward-looking retailers and manufacturers are deeply concerned about European Commission plans.

Friends of the Earth also criticised the UK Government for failing to voice concerns over the shelved proposals, with Atkins adding: “A broad coalition of businesses has been urging David Cameron to put pressure on the European Commission to keep its resource-use programme, but the silence from the UK government has been deafening.”

Released in July by the previous administration of the Curopean Commission, the draft circular economy package featured a proposed 70 per cent recycling and reuse target for 2030, as well as a requirement for Member States to recycle 80% of packaging waste by 2030.

A full resolution on the new working programme will now be drawn up and put to the vote during European Parliament’s January session.

Video: Frans Timmermans on the circular economy

Luke Nicholls

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie