Circular Economy Package

DEFINITION: Proposed EU legislation which includes revised legislative proposals on waste to stimulate Europe's transition towards a circular economy which will boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs.

The Circular Economy Package: A potted history…

Although waste management across the EU has improved considerably over the past couple of decades, almost a third of municipal waste is still landfilled and less than half is recycled or composted, with wide variations between Member States.

In 2014, the European Commission (EC) put forward an initial Circular Economy Package to address the issue and help European businesses and consumers make the transition to a circular economy where waste is seen as a ‘resource’ that can be recycled, re-used or remanufactured.

In December 2015, the EU controversially withdrew the Circular Economy Package and re-tabled a revised version. The Commission claimed the new recycling targets would present a stiff but achievable challenge for some Member States, but green groups said that the only ambition shown had been for “watering down” targets.

The Package will be backed by €5.5bn from the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) and €650m from Horizon 2020 (the EU funding programme for research and innovation). 

What is the current state of play with EU waste policy?

The 2008 Waste Framework Directive sets the overarching legislative framework for EU waste policy. The Directive sets binding targets to be achieved by 2020: preparing for reuse and recycling of 50% of certain waste materials from households and similar sources, and preparing for reuse, recycling and other recovery of 70% of construction and demolition waste.

Meanwhile, the 1999 Landfill Directive bans landfilling of untreated waste. The Directive sets a goal that the share of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfills may not be greater than 35% in 2016, compared to the baseline year of 1995.

The Packaging Waste Directive waste aims to protect the environment and to safeguard the functioning of the internal market. It requires Member States to take measures to prevent packaging waste and to develop packaging reuse systems.

When will the Package be enforced?

The Package is currently going through the EU legislative process. Before the Circular Economy Package is passed into law, all three European institutions (the European Council, European Parliament and the European Commission) must have an agreed stance, which they will then take into a series of discussions.

Both European Parliament and Council of Ministers can amend the legislation but must agree upon an identical text before those bills can become law. This means that a final package will likely not be established until the second half of 2017. Malta, which holds the rotating EU Presidency, has said it will try to reach a deal with MEPs before 1 July, when its six-month Presidential term ends.

Who does the Package effect?

The targets listed under the Circular Economy Package will be implemented by national governments across the 28 Member States that are in Europe, and are targeted at the waste performance of households and businesses.

It is anticipated that the measures set out in the Circular Economy Package will be completed before the UK leaves the EU, so the UK will be obliged to give effect to them for as long as it remains in the EU (see more on Brexit at the end of this article).

What are the targets listed under the Package?

The original Circular Economy Package intended to increase recycling levels and tighten rules on incineration and landfill. It consists of six individual bills on waste, packaging, landfill, end-of-life vehicles, batteries and accumulators, and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

The re-tabled package, unveiled in December 2015, included eco-design rules for products to make them easier to recycle. But it also had lower 2030 targets for recycling municipal and packaging waste, and replaced a 2025 aspirational landfill reduction target of 25% with a mandatory 10% goal for 2030.

But in a new development this week (14 March), Members of the Parliament (MEPs) unanimously rejected these ”watered-down” ambitions. The plenary vote has advocated to reinstate the 70% target for municipal waste recycling, strengthening current proposals by 5%.

Meanwhile, a 2030 target for packaging recycling was voted to be 80% - higher than the 75% previously backed by the Commission. And the waste-to-landfill target has been restricted to 5%, replacing a mandatory target of 10% by 2030. MEPs have also voted for a European Union (EU) food waste reduction target of 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030, compared to 2014.

The Package also includes a series of other measures and targets, including:

  • The promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling;
  • A ban on landfilling of separately collected waste;
  • Simplified and improved definitions and harmonised calculation methods for recycling rates throughout the EU;
  • Concrete measures to promote re-use and stimulate industrial symbiosis - 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 (e.g. for packaging, batteries, electric and electronic equipment, vehicles).

Are those circular economy targets legally-binding?

Four legislative proposals contained in the Package are legal acts: Waste Framework Directive; Landfilling Directive; Packaging Waste Directive; Directives on end-of-life vehicles, on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators, and on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

However, the 2030 food waste targets are only a voluntary aim, and campaigners are now calling for the 50% reduction target to become legally-binding at Member State level.

What are the pros and cons of the Package?

The proposed actions aim to contribute to "closing the loop" of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy. The Commission states that the measures could bring net savings of €600bn or 8% of annual turnover for businesses in the EU and will reduce total annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4%.

But the financial benefits of the Package at a national level are less clear. According to one recent report from UK-based organisation Policy Exchange, British businesses could in fact lose as much as £2bn over the next 20 years as a result of the Package. Policy Exchange’s head of environment and energy Howard told edie that the EU Package is “ill-defined”, “poorly thought through” and ultimately represents a poor waste management system for the UK.

A number of other serious side-effects to the Package have been highlighted by UK waste experts, such as the use of European weight-based recycling targets, which often focus recycling on heavier materials whether or not they are the highest environmental priority.

Given that the UK is currently struggling with some of the existing recycling targets, it remains to be seen whether the UK Government would benefit from the implementation of these new measures in the run up to, and after, leaving the EU.

How will Brexit impact the UK’s involvement in the Circular Economy Package?

The UK Government is expected to trigger its two-year negotiation period for leaving the EU this month, giving a departure date of early 2019.

If the UK wishes to continue participation in the single market, it would need to sign up to the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement (EEAA). A quick look at the current state of legislation confirms that if the UK adopted this route post-Brexit, actually very little would change in relation to environmental controls and the majority of legislative proposals that form part of the Package once enacted would continue to apply to the UK.

However, the big stumbling block with EEA membership will be the requirement to adhere to the principle of the free movement of people. Many EU leaders have stated publicly that the UK will not be allowed to introduce such controls which would conflict with the free movement principle if it wishes to join the EEA. For that reason, membership of the EEA at the moment seems very unlikely.

As a result, the UK would not be directly bound by many of the EU environmental controls, including those relating to the Circular Economy Package. If concepts in the Package, such as minimum recycled content in certain products, are brought forward, then these obligations would apply indirectly to the UK because they would affect products being supplied into the EU. However, other elements of the Package, such as recycling targets, would not directly apply to the UK and the level of ambition in this area would be left in the Government’s hands.

The likelihood is that, even without a direct or indirect obligation from the EU to adopt the Circular Economy Package, the UK will need to take its own steps to incorporate the circular economy concept into its own policies and from there to introduce its own legal controls.

See also: Circular economy

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Seven things sustainability professionals can learn from Hugh and Anita's War on Plastic

The BBC's docuseries exploring how the public, government officials and corporates are fuelling an unsustainable demand for plastics concluded on Monday (24 June). Here, edie highlights seven key lessons that the series can teach sustainability professionals.

(L-R): CWG's head of sustainability Martin Gettings; Refinitiv's head of sustainability Luke Manning; Morgan Stanley's vice president Dylan Bexley and Less Plastic's founder Amanda Keetley discuss the future of the war on plastics

Beyond 'token' items: What's next for London's war on plastics?

Some 18 months ago, Blue Planet 2 first aired, spurring an exponential growth in public action against plastics that has changed what business and policy leadership look like. But what's next on the road to an economy free from unnecessary plastics?

A key focus of the strategy is that of the built environment. Image: Google

Google's new circular economy strategy to 'maximise reuse' across its operations

Tech giant Google has launched a new circular economy initiative aimed at addressing an "inherently unsustainable" demand for resources and products by leveraging the transformational potential of technology.

The trade organisations behind the recommendations collectively represent the majority of the four million people employed in the UK’s food and drink industry

Food and drink giants press for long-term policies on decarbonisation and circularity

A collection of more than 30 organisations across the UK's food and drink supply chain have urged Ministers to bolster policies around long-term decarbonisation, climate resilience and resource efficiency for the sector.

3M is also a member of the Climate Group's RE100 renewable electricity initiative 

Manufacturer 3M joins Ellen MacArthur Foundation's CE100 initiative

Multinational consumer goods, healthcare and industry manufacturer 3M has pledged to champion the circular economy and make the best use of the planet's resources by joining the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's CE100 initiative.

This week's innovations could help boost sustainable progress in the food, road transport and energy sectors 

Tarmac's recycled asphalt and Unilever's plastic-free boxes: The best green innovations of the week

Every week, numerous eye-catching and potentially transformational innovations are being developed to help businesses and nations turn their green ambitions into actions. Here, we round up six of the best.

Image credits: Canary Wharf Group and Eden Project Communities

Sustainable Business Covered podcast: Net-zero announcements and plastic-free communities

Episode 65 of the Sustainable Business Covered podcast sees edie's content editor Matt Mace and reporter Sarah George discuss net-zero legislation before introducing three exclusive interviews focused on resource efficiency with Canary Wharf Group, the Eden Project and the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB).

edie Explains: ISO 50001

This updated ISO 50001 guide, produced in association with edie's supporting partner Centrica Business Solutions, provides an in-depth summary of the ISO 50001 Standard which can be used by an organisation to establish and maintain a continuous level of energy performance improvements.

Estée Lauder to develop refillable packaging as part of circular economy drive

US-based cosmetics giant Estée Lauder has vowed to develop reusable and refillable packaging by 2025, as part of a sweeping new set of resource efficiency commitments.

More than 300,000 tonnes of used clothing is estimated to be landfilled in the UK every year

Fashion retailers team up to trial new closed-loop business models

A coalition of fashion retailers including Ted Baker are set to pilot more resource-efficient business models, such garment repair, resale and rental, to determine whether they are economically viable solutions to the sector's waste challenges.

From plastic packaging to fast-fashion, the new guide explains how businesses can accelerate the circular economy transition

Achieving a circular economy: New business guide launched by edie

Organisations looking to accelerate the transition to a circular economy now have access to a comprehensive 'edie explains' guide which breaks down everything there is to know about achieving a zero-waste world.

Talking single-use plastics with Lucy Siegle and Fiona Ball

edie's Mission Possible sofa chat show returns for 2019. In the second episode, edie discusses plastics with author, broadcaster and ethical living journalist Lucy Siegle and Sky's head of inspirational business Fiona Ball.

In some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, plastic collection rates are currently stagnating at less than 10%

Governments and businesses urged to collaboratively support recycling in developing nations

Amid what Sir David Attenborough has dubbed an "unfolding catastrophe" of plastic pollution in developing nations, urgent calls have been made for governments and finance firms to make collective and "significant investment" in circular economy systems across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

There's still time to register for a FREE pass to attend Day Two

Insight, inspiration and innovation continue into final day of edie Live 2019

Members of the UK's sustainability and energy management communities have descended upon the NEC in their thousands, with sessions at full capacity throughout the first day of edie Live 2019 and the action now set continue into the second and final day (22 May).

Circular economy solutions, onsite renewable energy generation and storage, and ground-source heat pumps are among the low-carbon technologies Rolls Royce is investing in

Circular economies and scenario analysis: How Rolls Royce is innovating for zero-carbon operations

EXCLUSIVE: As the UK Government mulls over whether to adopt a 2050 target for net-zero carbon emissions, engineering and aerospace giant Rolls Royce is going beyond the "low-hanging fruit" as it continues on its pathway to zero-carbon operations by 2030.

ECC claims the target is "ambitious" and that it acknowledges the existence of a "Climate Emergency"

Edinburgh commits to become 'net-zero' carbon city by 2030

Edinburgh City Council (ECC) has pledged to ensure that the city operates on a "net-zero" carbon basis by 2030 - 15 years before Scotland's national net-zero target for 2045.

<p>To date, P&G has ensured that 86% of its product packaging is either recyclable or that programmes are in place to create the ability to recycle it</p>

Inside P&G's plastics packaging strategy

EXCLUSIVE: Procter & Gamble's principal scientist and packaging technologist, Gian De Belder, has outlined the company's five-pillar approach to improving the recyclability of its packaging through science-based studies and "Holy Grail" collaborative projects.

<p>edie will continue to add valuable news articles, features and exclusive interviews to the Mission Possible Plastics Hub throughout the year</p>

edie's Mission Possible campaign evolves with launch of dedicated Plastics Hub microsite

edie's Plastics Hub a content-driven campaign that will support sustainability and resource efficiency professionals on our collective mission to eliminate single-use plastics - has a new home on the Mission Possible microsite.

<p>This week has seen Farfetch launch its first resale service, Second Life, and join the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's 'Make Fashion Circular' initiative </p>

How Farfetch is uniting designers, retailers and shoppers to create a circular fashion economy

EXCLUSIVE: Digital fashion platform Farfetch has been serious about the circular economy since its foundation. But amid growing demands for more ambitious action on waste, its chief sustainability officer has told edie that the firm now views resale and repair as an "amazing commercial opportunity".

There's still time to register for your free pass to edie Live

Top 10 'must-attend' sessions at edie Live 2019

With a week to go until the show doors open, the edie editorial team picks 10 standout case studies set to take the stage at the UK's largest sustainability and energy exhibition, edie Live, as it returns to the NEC Birmingham on 21-22 May.

Registration for the free-to-attend show is open for sustainability, energy and environment professionals

Lucy Siegle confirmed for Sustainability Keynote at edie Live 2019

Renowned ethical living and environmental journalist Lucy Siegle completes a star-studded line-up of expert speakers appearing at the UK's largest sustainability and energy exhibition, edie Live, as it returns to the NEC Birmingham on 21-22 May.

The Tracker found that 22% of businesses placed net-zero carbon as a top two priority

Environment ranks behind health and wellbeing as main business priority

Environmental issues such as the circular economy and net-zero carbon targets have been highlighted as a main priority by more than one-third of UK businesses, second only to health and wellbeing, according to a new Responsible Business Tracker.

edie Explains: The circular economy

This new and updated edie Explains guide breaks down everything there is to know about achieving a circular economy for your business.

The ambition into action webinar is now available to watch on demand

Seven tips for turning your organisation's green ambitions into ACTION

During a sustainability leadership webinar hosted by edie last week, representatives from Tideway, Business in the Community (BITC), WSP and EDF Energy gave their advice for sustainability and energy professionals looking to turn green ambitions into tangible actions. Here, we round up their key takeaways.

The live, one-hour webinar will be available to watch on-demand for those who register

Now on demand: ambition into action webinar featuring Tideway, WSP and BITC

Listen now on demand to edie's exclusive one-hour webinar featuring sustainable business experts from Tideway, WSP, the BITC and EDF Energy, who will discuss how UK businesses can ramp up their efforts to reduce energy and resource use in 2019-20.

Apple's Daisy recycling robot is capable of disassembling 200 iPhones per hour

Apple to launch material recovery lab after ramping up circular economy drive

Technology giant Apple is set to open a new research and development lab focused on cl osed-loop solutions this year, after diverting more than 48,000 metric tonnes of electronic waste from landfill during 2018.