By Paul Davies and Alice Gunn

Unwrapping the New Circular Economy Package

The European Commission is driving the transition to a stronger and more circular economy by ensuring resources are used in a more sustainable way. On 2 December 2015, the Commission adopted a new Circular Economy Package which, according to the Commission, will help European businesses and consumers adopt more sustainable practices.

In December 2014, the Commission withdrew proposals for waste reductions targets on the grounds that the approach was not ambitious or comprehensive enough to “close the loop” on the circular economy. One year on, the targets are still not as ambitious as many had hoped, however the new Circular Economy Package provides a comprehensive approach that addresses the entire product cycle. The package consists of an EU action plan for the circular economy, which comprises of a timetable and the adoption of a number of legislative proposals, including proposed directives on waste, packaging waste, landfill, and electrical and electronic waste.

Businesses set to benefit from a circular economy

The European Commission projects that a circular economy will bring savings of €600 billion for EU businesses (equivalent to 8 percent of annual turnover), create 580 thousand jobs and reduce EU annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4 percent. For example, the cost of remanufacturing mobile phones could be halved if they were easier to dismantle, and a shift from recycling to refurbishing light commercial vehicles could save €6.4 billion in material inputs and €140 million in energy costs per year, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6.3 million tonnes.

The circular economy aims to reduce waste and protect the environment, and it is hoped that there will be a transition towards a market where resources are fully exploited to make use of all their economic value. The proposals will extend product lifecycles by extracting the maximum value and use from raw materials, products and waste through greater recycling and re-use, and by enabling energy savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions. This will in turn generate new economic and employment opportunities. Businesses will be able to make the best possible use of resources and reduce dependency on raw materials, and this, along with product innovation, will help boost global competitiveness.

Closing the loop

The circular economy package proposes:

  • Actions to reduce food waste, including a common measurement methodology, improved date marking and tools to meet the global Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to halve food waste by 2030.
  • The development of quality standards for secondary raw materials to increase the confidence of operators.
  • Measures in the Ecodesign working plan for 2015-2017 to promote reparability, durability and recyclability of products, in addition to energy efficiency.
  • Revised regulation on fertilisers to facilitate the recognition of organic and waste-based fertilisers and support the role of bio-nutrients.
  • A strategy on plastics that addresses recyclability, biodegradability, hazardous substances and the SDG target for significantly reducing marine litter.
  • Actions on water re-use, including a legislative proposal on minimum requirements for the re-use of wastewater.

The circular economy package also sets our specific proposals for waste management, which include:

  • A common EU target for recycling 65 percent of municipal waste and 75 percent of packaging waste by 2030.
  • A binding landfill target to reduce landfill to a maximum of 10 percent of all waste by 2030 and a ban on landfilling separately collected waste.
  • The promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling.
  • Simplified definitions and harmonised calculation methods for recycling rates.
  • Measures to promote re-use and stimulate industrial symbiosis by 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.

What are the next steps?

The Commission is now calling on the European Parliament and Council to prioritise adoption and implement its legislative proposals. Environment ministers are scheduled to discuss the circular economy action plan and legislative waste targets on 4 March and are expected to finalise their position by 20 June.

Industry and agriculture ministers will also be involved in negotiating aspects of the circular economy package, with industry ministers scheduled to discuss the proposals with the Commission on 29 February and the Fertilisers Regulation on 26 May, and agriculture ministers scheduled to adopt a joint position on food waste  by 28 June.

Read more on environment issues in the global supply chain:

Why Environmental Issues Matter to Global Businesses