Renewable Matter # 09 / March-April

The Match is still to be played

by Giorgio Lonardi

It is unambitious, defeatist, wanting for some. Effective and appropriate for others. These are the reactions and comments of politicians and Italian stakeholders to the circular economy EU package.

 

The match on circular economy is still to be played. And the European Parliament will make its voice heard on the measures proposed by the EU Commission last December replacing those of July 2014. This is what strongly alleges Simona Bonafè, Member of the European Parliament in the Socialist group, member of the Commission for the Environment of the European Parliament and rapporteur of the circular economy package that will be examined in Strasbourg. She states: “We have already informed the Commission that we are absolutely against the fact that recycling targets have been lowered, compared to the first proposal.” She adds: “In my opinion this project is not sufficiently ambitious as far as prevention is concerned. As a matter of fact, too little is provided on the reduction of the upstream waste. Those actions are not binding and too generic, thus representing a point of weakness.”

As per the timings of what promises to be a heated debate both with the Commission and with the European Council, Simona Bonafè explained that she will file her proposal on April 21st, “then amendments will be tabled and discussion in the Environment Committee.” The purpose is to provide for the European Parliament to get ready to confront with the Commission in November when also the proposals of the European Council should be ready.

On the domestic front, that of Italian politics, Bonafè collects the support of Chiara Braga, environmental manager for the Democratic Party: “We are all committed – she states – to support in the best way the task of the rapporteur of the circular economy package. We consider the proposal from the Commission not to be ambitious enough. And we are not only referring to the recycling target. But also to the need to follow the entire life of products from eco-friendly design, to the extended producer responsibility to reuse or recycling. This is the only way to talk about circular economy advisedly. It is an opportunity not to be missed for our country.”

If we put aside the world of politics and focus the lens on that of stakeholders, we observe a very varied panorama. To understand deeply, the Environment Ministry has entrusted the Foundation for Sustainable Development chaired by Edo Ronchi (himself a former Minister for the Environment between 1996 and 2000) to coordinate a consultation table with the stakeholders themselves. The participation was massive: 29 organizations from industry, craftsmanship, waste collection and treatment consortia have made their comments. “We have witnessed a positive attitude, exceeding our expectations, on the circular economy package – says Ronchi. Together with the belief that these measures will generate benefits and market opportunities for businesses.”

Furthermore, Ronchi notices that the package proposed by the Commission in 2014 is virtually unknown to stakeholders, therefore, they focused their attention only on the text approved in December 2015. As per the requests for clarification or modification, issues focus on a few areas. Such as a clear indication of EWC codes (European Waste Catalogue) for the identification of municipal waste. Or to specify on a case-by-case basis the regulations governing secondary raw materials without restraining them all into a comprehensive and cumbersome bureaucratic system. Concerning the extended producer responsibility stakeholders request an explanation on competition, major concern in Italy. Basically people want to understand whether waste collection consortia will maintain or not the monopoly in their areas of intervention. Finally, it is worth noticing the demand for enhancing green public procurement, by requiring public authorities to privilege the purchase of recycled products.

However among stakeholders there are some very critical voices against the work of the Commission. To realize it, you just have to listen to Marco Versari, chairman of Assobioplastiche, the Italian Association of bioplastics and biodegradable and compostable materials: “I would have expected – he says – that the precise timing for separate collection and especially for the organic fraction would be indicated in the package. The worst thing is that the Commission even states that waste collection itself must be carried out where economically and technically sustainable.” According to Versari there is no doubt that a formulation of this type is likely to jeopardize the development of circular economy. He explains: “Anyone will be able to find technical or economic pretexts to boycott separate waste collection.” He adds: “Not to mention that the proposal did not make organic waste collection mandatory and didn’t set any deadline about it”. 

Versari asks “Where lies the bet on organic fraction? Without organic waste fraction, many challenges of our country related to circular economy are likely to remain on paper. It is not possible to develop an industrial sector in the absence of well defined rules and limitations. I find in the Commission document plenty of bureaucracy and formalism. Why! How come that whilst the world focuses on differentiated waste collection at Cop21 in Paris, Brussels brakes?”. Not being able to find a positive element in the European paper presented on this whole affair, the chairman of Assobioplastica is forced to shield himself with the national law. He says: “Fortunately the environmental draft law connected to the 2016 Stability Law provides a set of norms supporting separate waste collection”.

If Versari is very harsh on the 2015 package, Angelo Consoli, European director for Jeremy Rifkin and co-founder of the ‘‘ Alliance for circular economy “and reference point for many non-governmental organizations, appears to be stinging. He says: “The Commission didn’t listen to us and did not do a good job.” Consoli outlines an approach that aims at involving local communities, using 3D printers and at enhancing the short chain. He says: “We had recommended to the Commission three points that we believe are the preconditions for doing a good job. Starting with the need to overcome the idea of a ‘unique control room’ to coordinate interventions at national level replacing it with a governance centred on local communities and providing for the status of the circular economy councillor as a technical and political reference point. You can’t go wrong: recycling and re-use interventions must take place on the territory to be effective”.

The second cornerstone in Consoli’s proposal, closely related to the first, plays the short chain card: separate waste collection, composting, recycling must take place locally, focusing on a zero kilometre policy to reduce CO2 emissions. “We need to encourage the growth of a widespread economy: enough of mega plants, yes to small non-polluting factories that create jobs and maintain the relationship with the territory.” Actually, the model proposed by Consoli goes even further and provides incentives for the development of a dense network of 3D printers capable of using the iron, plastic, aluminium and other materials collected locally. A project, it should be noticed, that bestows an important role to the development of bio-economy. Thus having a clear constraint: “Do we want to focus, for example, on the extraction of polylactic acid from corn? Fine, but this operation must take place on the territory, in a small plant and under local governance.”

The approach in Rifkin promoted by Consoli is closely related to the idea of a “decarbonisation” of the old continent. The widespread economic model is interwoven with the use of renewable energy in all stages of processing. He explains: “Without the use of solar and wind energy the circular economy is likely to remain impaired, an incomplete project that Europe and the Europeans do not deserve.”

A totally different point of view is that of Confindustria that, in an interview with Renewable Matter, endorses “the action promoted by the European Commission to support the transition to a circular economic model by establishing a new strategic and regulatory framework”. Furthermore, Confindustria judges it as “an extraordinary opportunity for growth while respecting the environment not only for the industry but for the entire country system.” Italians entrepreneurs have no doubt that Brussels has moved well. And the strategies outlined in December 2015 appear to be consistent with the DNA of the country’s industrial system. “The valorisation of production waste by re-use – claims the organization – is an innate characteristic of our production system.”

In this panorama, industrialists are having an easy time in claiming the distinctive features of the national production system: “Eurostat certifies that Italian companies, with their 337 kilograms of raw material every million euro produced, not only are more virtuous compared to the EU average (497 kg) but Italy ranks second among those of major EU economies after Britain. A record that, according to Confindustria also extends to “end of life” products: “Against an industrial recovery startup of more than 163 million tonnes of recyclable waste on European level, in Italy 25 million tons were recovered: the highest value ever among all European countries.”

In short, entrepreneurs are convinced that they have done their homework and claim that a less expensive proposal in terms of investment as the one conceived by the Commission in 2015 is the most appropriate for a domestic industry with shortness of breath and struggling to keep up with the economic recovery: “We believe that the package of proposals on waste introduced by the EU Commission in December this year, represents, on the overall, an attempt to further upgrade the reference regulatory framework, especially when considered together with the package of proposals previously presented by the EU Commission in July 2014 and withdrawn by the new government.”

The impression is that Confindustria fears that the package implementation may result in increased costs. A concern which is reflected, on the one hand, by the appreciation of a series of measures proposed by the Commission in December 2015: harmonization of the reference regulatory framework, unification of the target calculation method, “introduction of operating minimum conditions for the enforcement of the extended producer responsibility”. And, on the other hand, by the request to “closely monitor all of these initiatives during the final approval process so as to correct some critical issues that characterize them.”