A new Circular Economy Action Plan for a cleaner and more competitive Europe includes 2030 targets for materials use and consumption footprint. The EU needs clear policy objectives to achieve a carbon-neutral, environmentally sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy by 2050 at the latest, say MEPs. The European Commission has adopted a new Circular Economy Action Plan – one of the main blocks of the European Green Deal, Europe’s new agenda for sustainable growth.
The new Action Plan announces initiatives along the entire life cycle of products, targeting for example their design, promoting circular economy processes, fostering sustainable consumption, and aiming to ensure that the resources used are kept in the EU economy for as long as possible. It introduces legislative and non-legislative measures targeting areas where action at the EU level brings real added value.
What is the circular economy?
The circular economy aims to change the paradigm in relation to the linear economy, by limiting the environmental impact and waste of resources, as well as increasing efficiency at all stages of the product economy. The circular economy refers to an economic model whose objective is to produce goods and services in a sustainable way, by limiting the consumption and waste of resources (raw materials, water, energy) as well as the production of waste.
It is breaking with the model of the linear economy, based on a take-make-consume-throw away pattern, by proposing to transform waste into recycled raw material for product design or other uses.
The circular economy model fits directly into the more general framework of sustainable development. It is part of a global strategy that also uses, among other things, the principles of the green economy, industrial ecology, eco-design or the economy of functionality.
Circular Economy Actions
The new Circular Economy Action Plan presents measures to:
Make sustainable products the norm in the EU;
Empower consumers and public buyers;
Focus on the sectors that use most resources and where the potential for circularity is high such as: electronics and ICT; batteries and vehicles; packaging; plastics; textiles; construction and buildings; food; water and nutrients;
Ensure less waste;
Make circularity work for people, regions and cities,
Lead global efforts on circular economy.
Implementation of the new Action Plan
The Commission is committed to ensure a swift implementation of all 35 actions. For an overview of the actions’ implementation timetable, see the relevant file in “Key documents”. On 10 November 2020, the Commission adopted the first Action Plan’s milestone: a proposal for a Regulation to modernise EU legislation on batteries. The aim is that batteries placed on the EU market are sustainable, circular, high-performing and safe all along their entire life cycle, that they are collected, repurposed and recycled, becoming a true source of valuable raw materials.
On Wednesday 27 January 2021, the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety adopted its report on the new EU Circular Economy Action Plan, with 66 votes in favour, 6 against and 7 abstentions.
Circular economy principles
MEPs emphasise that the current linear “take-make-dispose” economy will transforme into a truly circular economy, based on a series of key principles such as preventing waste and reducing energy and resource use. Products design will be in a way that reduces waste, harmful substances and pollution, and protects human health. The consumer benefits of a circular economy should be clear, they say.
Binding targets and indicators
MEPs call for science-based binding 2030 EU targets for materials use and consumption footprint, covering the whole lifecycle of each product category placed on the EU market. To this end, they urge the Commission to introduce in 2021 harmonised, comparable and uniform circularity indicators for material and consumption footprints.
The Environment Committee also calls on the Commission to propose product-specific and/or sector-specific binding targets for recycled content, while ensuring the performance and safety of the products concerned and that they are designed to be recycled.
Sustainable product policy
MEPs strongly endorse the Commission’s intention to broaden the scope of the Ecodesign Directive to include non-energy-related products. They insist that new legislation could take place in 2021. This should set horizontal sustainability principles and product-specific standards so that products placed on the EU market perform well, are durable, reusable, can be easily repaired, are not toxic, can be upgraded and recycled, contain recycled content, and are resource- and energy-efficient.
Other key proposals by MEPs include:
introducing measures against greenwashing and false environmental claims, as well as legislative measures to stop practices that result in planned obsolescence;
championing the EU Ecolabel as a benchmark for environmental sustainability;
strengthening the role of Green Public Procurement by establishing minimum mandatory criteria and targets;
mainstreaming circular economy principles into member states’ national recovery plans.
Rapporteur Jan Huitema / MEP Renew Europe
Rapporteur Jan Huitema (Renew Europe, NL) said: “The transition to a circular economy is an economic opportunity for Europe that we should embrace. Europe is not a resource-rich continent, but we have the skills, the expertise and the ability to innovate and develop the technologies needed to close loops and build a waste-free society. This will create jobs and economic growth and bring us closer to reaching our climate goals: It’s a win-win.” Watch video statement.
Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe
In March 2020, the Commission adopted a new “Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe”. A debate in the Environment Committee took place in October. The European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) has just approved the Huitema report on the circular economy – yet another step to turn the Green Deal into a reality. Renew Europe has been at the forefront of efforts to strengthen the circular economy in Europe, based on lessons learnt in recent years and a broadening of the scope towards different sectors and measures, such as common ecodesign standards for the EU market.
Up to 80% of products’ environmental impact is determined at the design phase. The global consumption of materials is expected to double in the next forty years, while the amount of waste generated every year is projected to increase by 70% by 2050. Half of total greenhouse gas emissions, and more than 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress, come from extracting and processing resources.
The circular economic model
The first Circular Economy Action Plan dates from 2015 and introduced a focused on waste treatment and a plastics strategy, including a much-discussed ban on single-use plastics. The new EU Circular Economy action plan continues the push for a more circular economic model with an emphasis on product design, on incentives for a thriving EU market for green products and for “closing the loop” through a combination of high-quality recycling and a better uptake of recycled materials.
It outlines how to improve the environmental sustainability of key value chains like electronics, batteries and vehicles, but also in sectors like textiles, construction and food. A key priority of the report is strengthening the market for recycled raw materials in Europe, through common EU standards and incentives to make them more competitive with primary raw materials. To give direction both for policy decisions and for companies, the report asks the Commission to propose new EU targets to limit our resource footprint and reduce waste.
The transition will provide big opportunities for the recovering EU economy, but it will also need support through investment in research and in education and training, and through EU investment funds.