In March, the European Commission presented a new action plan, Circular Economy Action Plan, to accelerate the circular economy in the European Union. A strategy, that for the next decade, would reduce the consumption footprint and double the rate of reusing of the materials (repair and recycle), as today in the EU only 12% of raw materials find their way back into the economy. The main objective of the strategy is to make the EU climate neutral by 2050.

The circular economy plan would have indirect benefits as it would strengthen the EU’s industrial base by encouraging the creation of new businesses, while for citizens it would provide high-quality products that will last longer as they are designed for re-use, repair and recycle. In case measures should be implemented, the GDP in the European Union could increase by 0.5% by 2030, creating around 700,000 new jobs. Let’s see some of the European Commission’s proposals regarding products, industrial sectors and waste.

Sustainable products development

To make products sustainable and efficient, bring them back into the economy and reduce waste, the executive wants to propose a legislative initiative on sustainable products. The main objective will be to extend the current EcoDesign Directive on eco-design beyond energy-related appliances alone. The European Commission will establish sustainability principles to regulate certain aspects, including:

  • the durability, reusability, upgradeability and reparability of products, also considering the presence of hazardous chemicals inside the products
  • high quality remanufacturing and recycling
  • the reduction of carbon emissions and environmental impact
  • the limitation of single-use
  • the ban on destroying of unsold goods.

To increase consumer participation, the European Commission will also improve the reparability of products by establishing the “Right to Repair”. For example, the plan provides the accessibility to more reliable information at the point of sale regarding the product life cycle, availability of spare parts and access to repair.

Circular economy plan for different industry sectors: from construction to packaging, plastics or food.

  1. Construction. The construction industry is now responsible for more than 35% of the total waste generation in the EU. To exploit the potential of this industry sector and reduce climate impact, the executive will develop a strategy to create coherence between climate, energy and resource efficiency, and better management of construction and demolition waste.
  2. Packaging. In 2017, every European citizen produced 173kg of packaging. The strategy requires all packaging to be reused or recycled in a sustainable way by 2030. Some of the measures go towards the reduction of packaging waste, the possibility to implement restrictions on the use of certain materials, but also reduce the complexity of packaging materials, including the number of materials and polymers used.
  3. Plastics. Another important market is that of plastics, that without proper control will double by 2050. Apart from the measures that have already been taken, the European Commission will strengthen the mandatory requirements for recycled content in products, take waste reduction measures for key products such as packaging, construction materials, and closely monitor the use of microplastics, that need to be limited.
  4. Food and water. In the European Union, about 20% of the food produced is lost and wasted, so the target will be to reduce food waste. As far as water resources are concerned, a new regulation on the reuse of water will be developed both in agriculture and in the industrial process chain.

Less waste, more value.

This is another interesting chapter of the circular economy plan that has caught our attention. The European Commission starts with a sound premise that we all agree upon: “High-quality recycling relies on effective separate collection of waste”. Therefore, the executive will harmonize the diverse separate waste collection systems, including models of separation systems, density and accessibility to common waste collection points, and programs to facilitate citizens’ involvement.

The European Commission’s plan is very ambitious and, if implemented and followed, will bring us closer to the circular economy and consequently to a higher quality of life. The mechanisms will be there, the technologies to recycle and for a better waste management are already here, but how can we make sure that policies will be followed and respected by the European Union states?