The new Circular Economy Plan, unveiled by the European Commission on 11 March, is one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal, Europe's new agenda for sustainable growth.
While mainly building on the work done since 2015, the new action plan also presents measures explicitly addressing the design and production processes for a circular economy. These include proposing legislation on Sustainable Product Policy, to ensure that products placed on the EU market are designed to last longer, are easier to reuse, repair and recycle, and incorporate as much as possible recycled material instead of primary raw material, empowering consumers by providing more information on the reparability and durability of products to enable them to make well-founded choices and reducing waste across the board, in all areas.
As executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, pointed out, Europe’s economy is still mostly linear, with only 12% of materials recycled and brought back into the economy. “There is a huge potential to be exploited both for businesses and consumers,” he said.
The responses to the plan have largely been positive.
The Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment has welcomed the new EU Circular Economy Action Plan as a unique opportunity to scale up the contributions of a circular economy to climate neutrality by incentivising the use of low carbon and circular products. “Beverage cartons have a low carbon footprint thanks to the renewability of its main material compared to other packaging containers,” said Annick Carpentier, Director General of ACE.
“We call on policymakers to establish EU- wide and national collection targets for beverage cartons that would provide a strong incentive to further investment and innovation in the recycling infrastructure,” she continued.
IK Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen – the German Association for Plastic Packaging and Films – presented its wish list for the plan on the eve of the plan’s introduction, writing that ‘a faster end to the landfill on plastic packaging waste and stronger markets for recyclates should be the most important set screws’. While the goals of the Commission have been known since the Plastics Strategy announced in January 2018, the association once again warned against the proposals for product bans and the implementation of a plastic tax, as the side effects of such measures ‘would be detrimental to climate protection and the intended circular economy’.
The association pointed out that its members had themselves already set goals for better recycling management of their products and is looking to politics for support of these goals ‘based on sound market mechanisms’. The development of recyclate markets must follow market economy principles, said the IK. Minimum recycling rates for certain products could prove counterproductive and, noted Isabell Schmidt, IK managing director circular economy: “There are other ways to effectively promote the use of recyclates, for example through financial incentives.”
Better separate collection of plastic packaging is the key to increasing recycling efficiency. “We are calling for ambitious targets for the separate collection of plastic waste and a faster landfill ban,” said Schmidt. “The announced Europe-wide uniform model for separate collection is welcome.”
The European Green Deal, presented by the von der Leyen Commission on 11 December 2019, sets an ambitious roadmap towards a climate-neutral circular economy, where economic growth is decoupled from resource use. A circular economy reduces pressure on natural resources, and is a precondition for achieving the climate-neutrality target by 2050 and halting biodiversity loss. Transitioning towards a circular economy will have net positive benefits in terms of GDP growth and jobs' creation. Implementing circular economy measures in Europe is projected to add 0.5% to the EU's GDP by the year 2030 and create around 700,000 new jobs.