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Critics question the ambition of EU circular economy proposals

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“These proposals give a positive signal to those waiting to invest in the circular economy,” said Jyrki Katainen of the European Commission.

The EU’s latest Circular Economy Package was announced on 2 December, drawing criticism from some for its dilution of previously more ambitious targets, particularly with respect to areas like landfill and food waste. “We were promised a more ambitious package, but the only ambition shown here has been for watering down targets,” commented Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder.
The package commits more than €6bn of EU funding to helping businesses and consumers make the transition to the circular economy, and is intended as a replacement for the EU’s previous set of proposals for waste and efficiency, which were withdrawn in December 2014 amid some controversy.
Targets outlined in the new proposals include a common EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030 (compared to the 70% target of the previous package) and a binding landfill target to reduce landfill to maximum of 10% of all waste by 2030 (compared to the previous package’s target of 70% of all municipal waste to be recycled by 2030). There will also now be a ban on the landfilling of separately collected waste and the promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling
The new proposals also declare a common 75% EU target for the recycling of packaging waste by 2030.
Actions to reduce food waste include the introduction of a common measurement methodology, improved date marking, and tools to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of halving food waste by 2030 – a target pinpointed in October as the one most deserving of widespread commitment, in the eyes of food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart.
Other circular economy measures included in the package are the development of quality standards for secondary raw materials to increase the confidence of operators in the single market.
One area where the package appears to show ambition is with respect to encouraging manufacturers to put greener products on the market, and making it easier to repair and reuse products such as electrical goods. This includes “concrete measures to promote re-use and stimulate industrial symbiosis –turning one industry’s by-product into another industry’s raw material”. The press release accompanying the announcement also highlights the presence of “economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes (e.g. for packaging, batteries, electric and electronic equipment, vehicles).”

Changes to Producer Responsibility regimes
The package specifies a means for measures to be enacted through amended Directives including those relating to all the Producer Responsibility regimes (Packaging, Batteries, WEEE and Vehicles).
David Burton of ecosurety, a leading Producer Responsibility scheme provider in the UK, commented: “This is a big ‘ask’ from measures that appear to largely address end-of-life issues and while there are proposed measures through the Ecodesign Directive – addressing recyclability etc – perhaps we need to place more consideration as a society on the environmental and social impacts made during a product’s life.”
He added: “While we welcome the fact the Commission wants to capture an extra 600 million tonnes of waste currently going into landfill, we need to ensure that the any legislative change is realistic, pragmatic and cost-effective and that pursuing recycling targets per se doesn’t end up with a net environmental deficit because we will have taken our eye off the key issues of sustainability and climate change”.

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