On 2nd December 2015 the European Commission adopted a new circular economy package, in order to promote much greater reuse of waste materials. The measures included revised legislation giving recycling targets of 65% of municipal waste and 75% of packaging waste. Previous proposals from December 2014 had recycling targets of 70% of municipal waste and 80% of packaging waste. The new package includes measures to reduce the amount of overall waste sent to landfill down to 10% by 2030. The earlier proposals had a total ban on landfill of all recyclable or compostable waste by 2030. The 2014 proposals were withdrawn, after objections from various business organisations.
A number of MEPs have criticized the watering down of the proposals, although reaction from business organisations has been more favourable. Defending the new package, the First Vice-President of the EU, Frans Timmermans, stated that it consisted of realistic, yet ambitious, steps forward.
Financial incentives are to be provided to encourage recycling in a number of key areas, such as electronics, batteries, scrap vehicles and packaging.
Biowaste proposals insufficient?
One area of concern is biowaste (including food waste). The current performance of member states with regard to this waste stream varies widely. There are no measures to ensure the separate collection of biowaste (often by means of ‘green bins’, etc.). Such collection is encouraged, but is not going to be made mandatory. David Newman, president of the ISWA (International Solid Waste Association), commented that the weakness of the biowaste proposals is likely to see many countries continuing with MBT (mechanical biological treatment) of waste, with the separated biowaste being sent to landfill. He predicts that this will lead to a two-tier system within Europe, with many countries in southern and eastern Europe continuing to send a great deal of their biowaste to landfill in the future.
Ray Georgeson of the Resource Association was also was critical of the proposals regarding food waste and separate collection, commenting that they were not as strong as many had wished.
Ecodesign encouraged by EU circular economy measures
The new EU circular economy measures encourage products to be designed in a way that facilitates recycling. The complexity and relative cheapness of many modern products, particularly electronic items, tends to militate against repair and recycling. The EU will be putting forward measures to ensure products are easier to dismantle and their various components easier to recycle. The EU wants to promote the production of products that will be longer-lasting, so that the era of planned obsolescence will be a thing of the past. However, it remains to be seen if this will occur in reality, since the business strategy of many companies rely on the frequent production of ‘better’, ‘must-have’ models. They would suffer greatly if consumers did not ‘upgrade’ their possessions at regular intervals.
Circular economy to improve economic performance?
The EU Commission believes that a move toward a more circular economy will help the EU’s long-term economic performance. Using an increased amount of recycled materials will help to insulate manufacturers against any sudden jumps in raw material prices. The Commission also believes that increased recycling will boost local employment, since the aim is that recycling will take place relatively near to where the waste is generated. Increased recycling should reduce pollution and decrease energy usage. However, it remains to be seen to what extent the proposals are transferred into reality on the ground, where many countries lack the resources for increased government spending or enforcement action on recycling. It is likely that future progress will be uneven, with some member states progressing much faster than others.
European Commission website, ‘Circular Economy Strategy’, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/index_en.htm
Messenger, B. ‘EU circular economy package arrives’, Waste Management World, (3rd Dec. 2015). http://waste-management-world.com/a/eu-circular-economy-package-arrives
Crisp, J. (EurActiv website), ‘Timmermans defends ambition of new circular economy package.’ http://www.euractiv.com/sections/sustainable-dev/timmermans-defends-ambition-new-circular-economy-package-320049
Newman, D. (ISWA website), President’s Blog (7th Dec. 2015). http://www.iswa.org/media/publications/presidents-blog/