Within recent times, one of the key buzz terms across the European Union (EU) waste and resources sector has been the ‘circular economy’, an issue that I have written about EU resource efficiency. It essentially relates to facilitating a reduction in waste and viewing the waste that is produced as a resource and attempting to add value, whether that be for example, in terms of economic value or job creation. The concepts are by no means new. Indeed, the term was first coined in the 1970s by Walter Stahel in reference to service-life extension of goods. In addition, the notion of minimising waste and moving away from a ‘linear’ to a more ‘circular’ approach has been around for several decades.
The European Environment State and Outlook 2015 Report argued that despite progress, waste generation rates in the EU remain high and performance against targets is mixed. Evidently there is a need to do much more.
We are awaiting the publication later this year of the EU’s Circular Economy package. The consultation for this document is currently out, but a date for its publication remains unclear. The EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella has indicated that the recycling targets, that had been scrapped in 2014 will indeed remain. However, he noted that:
“When we talk about targets, we are going to remain ambitious there, but we want to be more ambitious when it comes to implementation, because its useless putting layers and layers of legislation when we get the results and output”
One of the areas that hopefully will be focused on with regards to the implementation, is the ensuring markets for the demand for secondary materials. In an ideal world, secondary raw materials would be reused by remanufacturers and reprocessors in the EU. However, these materials often face significant challenges from virgin materials on the basis of costs and quality. The financial challenges faced by the company Euro Closed Loop Recycling as a result of the drop in the price of oil making virgin plastics cheaper than recycled, and manufacturers switching to virgin plastics in their packaging (despite it being just 0.1p less expensive per bottle), is a perfect example.
In a recent article in the Chartered Institution of Waste Management’s (CIWM) monthly journal, David Palmer-Jones CEO of SITA Suez and President of the European Federation of Waste Management and Environment Services (FEAD) argued for the following:
– minimum recycled content for selected products
– minimum EU-level green public procurement requirements to stimulate purchasing of recycled goods and materials
– eco-labelling to indicate recyclability and recycled content
– lower or zero rate VAT on second hand goods and products with recycled content
Added to these should be:
– strategies to increase public awareness about recycled goods and materials
– facilitation of enhanced strategic partnerships amongst both EU public and private sector organisations
– increased funding for applied research and development
– better quality data to inform policy and decision making
The economic, environmental and social potential if the EU gets in right are significant. However, if the EU is truly serious about implementing ambitious targets, boosting its economy and creating jobs within a circular economy, one of the key stations on the journey has to be facilitating market development for its own secondary materials.