cc Flickr/Rennett Stowe
On December 2nd the European Commission released its revised circular economy package – a year after the original proposal was controversially shelved. It proposes revisions to a number of EU laws dealing with resources issues including waste, packaging, eco-design, and landfill, and a communication for a circular economy action plan. After promises by Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans that the new package would be more ambitious than its predecessor, how does it measure up? And what’s on the radar in 2016?
We welcome the concrete action plan of measures related to production, consumption, the market for recycled material and new areas such as the bio-based economy. However, the waste targets have been watered down compared to the 2014 proposal, despite a clear call from civil society groups, progressive businesses and the European Parliament to maintain the ambition of the previous proposal.
The food waste prevention target has been scrapped and replaced by a monitoring methodology, the municipal solid waste and packaging recycling targets for 2030 are 5% lower, and a five-year transition period has been granted to less advanced member states. The methodology for recycling is looser, no longer accounting for the real output of recycling plants and allowing a 10% ‘tolerance’ to what can be defined as recycling. The much-needed mandatory separate collection of bio-waste remains, except with an opt-out clause – ultimately a loophole for those not willing to act.
Furthermore, the decision to reduce the ambition for waste policy sits jarringly against a growing body of evidence showing a true, ambitious circular economy is good for both our economy and our environment.
Higher targets mean benefits across the board. Reports by The Ellen MacArthur foundation, The Club of Rome and The Green Alliance all demonstrate that a radical transformation scenario is most beneficial for job creation and net cost savings. The Commission’s own impact assessment states that the higher the ambition for waste management, the better it is for our economy.
Unfortunately, for all the good intentions of the circular economy action plan, it does not look set to be followed by swift and concrete measures to put it into practice. Dates for the next phase of the process are unclear – a series of ongoing negotiations between the EU institutions will kick off for the different aspects of the package over the next couple of years.
One immediate date in the calendar, however, is in January 2016, when updates to Ecodesign legislation are expected. While the overall circular economy action plan contains encouraging language on ecodesign, the early indications are that the reality is a world away: there has been a further delay in releasing measures to improve the ecodesign of televisions and displays (intended to be reviewed by 2013) and weak revised proposals for resource use issues for white goods.
More broadly, the promise of more ambition has not been kept. We have effectively lost a year, and are left with weaker provisions on waste and no clear indication that we are going to walk the talk on other parts of the circle. Campaign groups must now work with the European Parliament, progressive member states, and all other aware stakeholders to unlock the many potentials of a genuine circular economy through real ambition. And in the meantime, we’ll keep championing local initiatives that break the buy/use/bin cycle through re-use and repair.