European Commission receives mixed response to Circular Economy Action Plan

The new Circular Economy Action Plan is one of the main “building blocks” of the Commission’s much-vaunted European Green Deal.

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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

12 Mar 2020


With measures spanning the entire life cycle of products, the plan aims to make Europe’s economy “fit for a green future, strengthen competitiveness, protecting the environment and give new rights to consumers.”

The plan, says the Commission, focuses on the “design and production for a circular economy”, aiming to ensure that resources used are “kept in the EU economy for as long as possible.”

It contains a list of 35 ‘actions’ acting as a checklist for the Commission in the coming years.


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The Commission will also propose new laws in 2021 to make products more sustainable.

This will include laws to improve the lifespan of products, counter premature obsolescence and single-use products, ban the destruction of unsold durable goods, and incentivise product-as-service systems – such as community rental systems for products.

The plan commits to halving municipal residual waste generation by 2030 and setting waste reduction targets for specific waste streams. The plan stops short of targets to reduce total waste generation, meaning waste going to recycling is not capped.

It also pledges to scale up reusable packaging, tableware and cutlery in food services.

“With today's plan we launch action to transform the way products are made and empower consumers to make sustainable choices for their own benefit and that of the environment” Frans Timmermans

On Wednesday, Commission executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said, “To achieve climate-neutrality by 2050, to preserve our natural environment, and to strengthen our economic competitiveness, requires a fully circular economy.

“Today, our economy is still mostly linear, with only 12% of secondary materials and resources being brought back into the economy. Many products break down too easily, cannot be reused, repaired or recycled, or are made for single use only.”

The Dutch official added, “There is a huge potential to be exploited both for businesses and consumers. With today's plan we launch action to transform the way products are made and empower consumers to make sustainable choices for their own benefit and that of the environment.”

Further comment came from EU Commissioner for the environment, oceans and fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, who said, “We only have one Planet Earth, and yet by 2050 we will be consuming as if we had three.”

“The new Plan will make circularity the mainstream in our lives and speed up the green transition of our economy. We offer decisive action to change the top of the sustainability chain – product design.”

“We only have one Planet Earth, and yet by 2050 we will be consuming as if we had three” Virginijus Sinkevičius

He added, ”Future-oriented actions will create business and job opportunities, give new rights to European consumers, harness innovation and digitalisation and, just like nature, make sure that nothing is wasted.”

Reaction to the Circular Economy Plan was mixed, with Friends of the Earth Europe saying it contains a “patchwork of some positive initiatives on how we produce, consume and dispose of resources and products but will likely fail to prevent runaway resource overconsumption.”

A statement read, “The package of policy measures initially included a target to reduce the EU’s so-called ‘material footprint’ – that is, the total amount of raw materials the EU economy consumes in products and services, including imports.”

“However, the final version is weakened and only includes a commitment to further develop resource footprints as part of the ‘monitoring framework’ – meaning there is no obligation for the EU to set targets to reduce resource consumption.”

Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, added, “The Von der Leyen Commission’s plan for a circular economy is out of touch with the reality and urgency of the planetary emergency. It will fail to reduce resource consumption – as the previous one did – because it is written to satisfy the demands of endless economic growth, over the needs of people and the natural world.”

“The final version is weakened and only includes a commitment to further develop resource footprints as part of the ‘monitoring framework’ – meaning there is no obligation for the EU to set targets to reduce resource consumption” Friends of the Earth Europe

“Our overconsumption of resources is wrecking the environment and communities.”

The business community, however, lauded the initiative as a “welcome action.”

BusinessEurope director general Markus J. Beyrer said, “Today Europe wastes up to €4.8 billion annually due to non-compliance with the EU’s existing waste legislation. Minimising waste generation and maintaining the value of raw materials and products for as long as possible is therefore not just good for the environment, but it also makes business sense.”

“We urgently need a functioning market for secondary raw materials and circular products. The Commission’s action plan has a real potential to help achieve these markets. It can lead to better consumer awareness of wasteful behaviour, much higher demand for circular products, access to finance for SMEs and to new technologies and improved waste management systems.”

Beyrer added, “Businesses across Europe are fully engaged to achieve a circular economy. We now look forward to work with policymakers on the specific policy proposals that will follow this action plan.”

“Businesses across Europe are fully engaged to achieve a circular economy. We now look forward to work with policymakers on the specific policy proposals that will follow this action plan” Markus J. Beyrer, BusinessEurope Director General

Elsewhere, Cepi, the European association representing the paper industry, applauded the increased support for low carbon value chains.

Jori Ringman, Cepi Director General, said, “With the proper regulatory framework, the European paper industry together with the forest-based industrial value-chain can become one of the main forces driving the transition to a competitive, low-carbon and circular economy.”

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