Will the new circular economy package be ambitious enough?

With the European Commission unveiling its long-awaited circular economy package on Wednesday (2 December), UK experts and green groups are keen to find out if it will contain the necessary ambition to drive resource efficiency.

The new package has taken almost a full year to formulate, after the Commission scrapped its original plans last December, promising to deliver a “broader and more ambitious package” in its stead.

However, documents seen by edie content partner Euractiv last week suggested that the new package might actually be less ambitious, with watered-down recycling and landfill targets.

The 2014 package called for a 70% recycling target for municipal waste for 2030, and a total ban on landfill for all recoverable and reusable waste. The new plans will reportedly only call for a 65% recycling goal, and will allow a 10% landfill quota.

What else do we know about the circular economy package?

The original package demanded a reduction of at least 30% of food waste between 2017 and 2025, but there will apparently be no such target in the new rules, just a requirement to monitor and assess waste prevention measures, with member states required to introduce mandatory separate collection of food waste.

The leaked documents showed that the new package will offer “major” funding for innovation and “targeted action” in food, construction, industrial and mining waste, and public procurement.

The package also seeks to create a market for secondary raw materials “which can be traded and shipped” just like primary raw materials from traditional extractive resources”. To achieve this, the new package could propose an EU-wide quality standard for all raw materials.

How could this affect the UK?

Several key UK stakeholders have laid out their wants in the consultation phase, including Defra, WRAP, the Green Alliance and the Renewable Energy Association (REA).

Defra has called more collaboration between sectors and voluntary – rather than prescriptive – measures. It also said that public procurement should lead by example by choosing circular options where possible.

WRAP advocated for a specific food waste policy, greater encouragement of resource efficient business models, and the creation of a ‘vision’ of what the ideal EU circular economy would look like in 2025.

Meanwhile, the Green Alliance said the package must encourage manufacturers to design products to be longer-lasting and more repairable.

The REA today (1 December) issued its own statement on the upcoming circular economy package, listing three key wants from the legislation.

1) Introduce mandatory separate food waste collection within three years. This would help develop the composting and anaerobic digestion (AD) industries, which would improve UK soil quality, reduce emissions, and produce green gas, the REA says.

2) Introduce more clear guidelines around the incineration of food waste. The REA claims that clear regulation is needed to promote healthy AD and waste-to-energy industries.

3) Improve the quality of inputs to composing and AD sites through improved communications to households and businesses. As the quality of the food and organic wastes improve, it will be easier to produce green gas, says the REA.

What’s at stake?

The exact figures vary, but waste-focused NGO’s and charities are unanimous in the opinoin that the circular economy could provide a massive boost to the economy, job creation and resource husbandry.

WRAP estimates that a European transition to the circular economy could create three million extra jobs by 2030 and reduce unemployment by 520,000. Another study released today by the Green Alliance suggests the circular economy could create an additional 270,000 jobs in Italy, Poland and Germany alone, saving €3bn a year.

The financial benefits are also clear to see. In June, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation claimed that a pan-European transition to a circular economy would generate around €1.8trn of benefit for European economies every year.

The need for more ambition on waste and resource managementin England was highlighted today by new Defra figures for the 12-month period to March 2015, which show the rate of recycling from households in England was 44.7% – up year-on-year by just 0.2%. There is an EU target for the UK to recycle at least 50% of waste generated by households by 2020.

Brad Allen

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