European Commission launches consultation on new ‘ambitious’ circular economy strategy

02 July 2015

Article by Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Photo of caged metal cans

Image from Flikr by DaveBleasdale. Licensed under the Creative Commons

Following the contentious withdrawal of the previous package at the start of the year, the Commission is aiming to present a new, ‘more ambitious’ circular economy strategy towards the end of 2015. The strategy will address a range of economic sectors, including waste, ‘to transform Europe into a more competitive resource-efficient economy’. In preparing its strategy, the Commission launched a public consultation on the circular economy on 28 May. In what follows, we outline what is meant by a circular economy, the history of the proposal and its current status.

What is a circular economy?

The amount of waste we produce is steadily increasing. Since the enhanced manufacturing processes of the industrial revolution, economies have used a ‘take-make-consume and dispose’ pattern of growth. This linear economy is based on the assumption that resources are abundant and cheap to dispose of.

The European Commission aims to turn this linear economy into a circular economy. This means re-using, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products so that ‘waste’ can be turned into a resource.

The history of the strategy in the EU

The European Commission’s circular economy package (COM/2014/0397, 2014/0201/COD) was drawn up under the last Barroso Commission. It comprised six laws on waste; packaging, landfill, end-of-life vehicles, batteries and accumulators, and electronic equipment waste. The package included legally binding targets of 70% recycling for municipal waste by 2030, 80% recycling for packaging, such as glass, paper, metal and plastic by 2030, and a ban on landfilling of all recyclable and biodegradable waste by 2025.

However, the first Work Programme of the new Junker Commission, published in December 2014, which set out the Commission’s priorities for 2015, included the withdrawal of the Circular Economy package. The Commission announced that the package was to be replaced with a ‘more ambitious’ proposal by the end of 2015.

MEPs, national Environment Ministers and campaigners have argued strongly against this decision saying that dropping the proposal would cause unnecessary delays in the transition towards a Circular Economy. In the UK’s Explanatory Memorandum on the Commission’s Work Programme the Welsh Government stated that it was ‘disappointed’ with the withdrawal of the Package but looked forward to seeing new proposals in the near future. The EM also highlighted the Welsh Local Government Association’s concern regarding the uncertainty of future Circular Economy legislation and the loss of the work already devoted to the proposals.

2015 proposals for a Circular Economy

In April 2015, the Junker Commission published a roadmap providing a preliminary description of its work on the new Circular Economy strategy. The initiative is expected to be published towards the end of 2015 in the form of a Communication, including an Action Plan. According to the Commissioner for Environment, Maritime and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, the expected Communication would address two aspects of the Circular Economy, notably:

– The production and consumption phase, before products become waste (Upstream);

– After products are no longer waste, in order to develop a market for the recycled products (Downstream).

This Communication will form part of a package of measures including a proposal revising EU waste targets.

Public consultation launched

A public consultation was launched on 28 May and will run until 20 August. Its results will feed into the package of measures on the Circular Economy and aims to collect stakeholders’ opinions on:

1) The production phase and, in particular, how the design of a material or product can facilitate recycling, extend its lifetime through reuse, refurbishment or repair and reduce its environmental impact;

2) How consumers’ choices could promote the Circular Economy in the consumption phase;

3) Obstacles to the development of a market for secondary raw materials;

4) Possible adoption of sectoral measures for certain sectors in order to “close the loop” of the Circular Economy; and

5) The role of “enabling factors” such as innovation, investment and developing the required skills and qualifications in the development of the Circular Economy.

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