What is the Circular Economy Package?

On 2 December 2015, the European Commission adopted a new Circular Economy Package to stimulate Europe’s transition towards a circular economy. The Package consists of:

  • an EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy
  • a timetable setting out when the actions will be completed (set out in an Annex to the Action Plan); and
  • adoption of a number of legislative proposals, including:
    • Proposed Directive on Waste
    • Proposed Directive on Packaging Waste
    • Proposed Directive on Landfill
    • Proposed Directive on Electrical and Electronic Waste

The Package will be supported financially by European Structural and Investment Funds: €650 million from Horizon 2020 (the EU funding programme for research and innovation), €5.5 billion from the structural funds for waste management and investments at a national level.

What are the benefits?

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 €600 billion or 8% of annual turnover for businesses in the EU and will reduce total annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4%.

What happened to the previous Circular Economy Package?

The Commission withdrew the previous circular economy package in December 2014 in order to present a “more ambitious” strategy in late 2015. More information on the previous proposals and previous targets can be found on the European Commission’s webpage under ‘Background’.

Revised legislative proposals on waste

The proposed legislation contains a number of clear targets and provisions for the reduction and management of waste, including:

  • simplified definitions and harmonised calculation methods for recycling rates throughout the EU;

  • increasing economic incentives for better product design through provisions on extended producer responsibility schemes;

  • increasing the preparing for re-use and recycling target for municipal waste to 60% by weight by 2025 and 65% by weight by 2030;

  • a gradual limitation of the landfilling of municipal waste to 10% by 2030 and a ban on landfilling separately collected waste;

  • increasing the preparing for reuse and recycling targets for all packaging waste to 65% by 2025 and 75% by 2030 (with specific targets for specific packaging materials such as plastic, wood, glass, paper and cardboard);

  • ensuring the separate collection of bio-waste (including biodegradable garden and park waste, food and kitchen waste from households, restaurants, caterers and retail premises) where it is technically, environmentally and economically practicable and appropriate.

Estonia, Greece, Croatia, Latvia, Malta, Romania and Slovakia are given the option of applying for extensions to meet the recycling and landfill targets.

Food waste

In September 2015, as part of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the UN adopted a target of halving per capita food waste at the retail and consumer level and reducing food losses along the production and supply chains. In order to support actions to meet this target, the Commission commits to the following actions on food waste:

  • in order to ensure uniform measurement of the levels of food waste, adopting an implementing act to establish a common methodology, including minimum quality requirements in 2016;

  • clarifying relevant EU legislation related to waste, food and feed in order to facilitate food donation and utilisation of foodstuffs for animal feed in 2016;
  • examining ways to improve the use of date marking and its understanding by consumers, in particular the “best before” label in 2017.

The legislative proposals also include a requirement for member states to ensure separate collections of bio-waste (including food waste) where technically, environmentally and economically practicable and appropriate.

Secondary raw materials and water

The Action Plan confirms that the Commission will take a series of actions to facilitate water re-use, including a legislative proposal on minimum requirements for re-used water (e.g. for irrigation and groundwater recharge) by 2017.

The Commission will propose a revised EU Regulation on fertilisers in early 2016 to facilitate recognition of organic and waste-based fertilisers.

The Commission will develop quality standards for secondary raw materials, in particular for plastics from 2016 onwards.

What happens next?

The Commission is now calling on the European Parliament and Council to prioritise adoption and implementation of its legislative proposals. The Package was presented to the European Parliament on 2 December and to the European Council on 16 December.

The legislative package will be considered by the European Council and Parliament, with a view to negotiating and agreeing the different elements. The UK Government has stated that this process may take between 1-3 years. On entry into force, the new Directives will need to be transposed into UK law. 

The Netherlands have prioritised the Circular Economy Package for their Presidency of the EU and aim to get Member States’ agreement of the related Council Conclusions on the Package in the first half of 2016.

Initial reactions to the new Circular Economy Package

The Resource Association published its initial reaction, with the CEO commenting:

On the face of it, the reduction of headline municipal recycling and packaging recycling targets will be seen as less ambitious than last year’s withdrawn proposals of former Commissioner Potočnik.  However, the new proposal to reduce municipal waste landfilled to 10% by 2030 combined with the ban to landfill of separated waste sends a clear signal that the era of large-scale landfill will be over – this is welcomed.  In addition, these recycling targets will be legally binding and in themselves will present a stiff but achievable challenge for some Member States

Proposals on food waste and separate collection appear to be weaker than many of us had hoped for, and the introduction of TEEF as a successor (for biowaste) to TEEP may not prove to be the Commission’s finest moment.

The European Environmental Bureau’s initial comments included:

The Commission has failed to deliver on its promise to come with a more ambitious proposal. The addition of some nice initiatives does not offset the fact that the legally binding core of the package, notably the waste targets, is weaker than in last year’s proposal. We’ve ended up with a wasted year and a proposal that is less ambitious.

Friends of the Earth UK refers to the new Package as “notably weaker than its predecessor”. Its comments include:

The target for reuse and recycling of municipal waste has been reduced to 65% by 2030, as opposed to the previous package’s target of 70%.

The previous package contained a target mandating EU member states to reduce food waste by 30% between 2017 and 2025. The new proposal sets no targets.

There is no longer a target for an overall reduction in the total amount of resources we use.

If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it. Despite this, the Commission has ducked earlier plans to measure the ‘four footprints’ of land, water, carbon and raw materials.

Edie.net has compiled further initial reactions, including from Veolia UK and Ireland:

These new targets from the EU are a big step to delivering a circular economy. Research by Imperial College London has found that there could be a £29bn boost to UK GDP, plus 175,000 jobs if we move to an economy where goods have a second, third and fourth life.

and from the Environmental Services Association:

While there is much to debate in the detail of the Commission package, the overall direction of travel seems right; better product design, more re-use and recycling, and less landfill. And there is a welcome emphasis on implementation.

UK Government reaction

The Cabinet Office published Explanatory Memoranda on the European Documents (14972/15) and proposed legislation (14973/15) on 21 December 2015. The UK Government welcomes the broad direction of the Action Plan and praises the inclusion of a number of ideas which the Government supported during consultation phase. It notes that it would like to see more, including the scale up of voluntary approaches.

Some elements of the Action Plan are flagged for further consideration by the UK Government as the Commission takes the plans forward, particularly measures that may lead to mandatory measures in the future, including:

  • revised regulations for fertilisers and waste water; and
  • significant changes to national systems, such as those that affect the collection and recycling of waste vehicles and electrical and electronic equipment.

The Explanatory Memorandum to the Action Plan states that the UK Government want to:

make sure that the Commission proposals are developed with member states, allow flexibility, ensure that costs are justified by expected impacts, avoid unnecessary burdens on business, and create an environment that welcomes innovation, improves resource productivity and helps increase business competitiveness.

In relation to the raft of new proposed legislation, the EM confirms that work is underway to fully assess the impacts, including on business.


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