How will the Circular Economy Package (CEP) impact Europe? This is the fundamental question everyone in the business is debating right now. In Brussels the glass seems to be half full for the final text. The endorsement for the set of legislation designed to increase recycling, reduce waste and advance a circular economy in Europe came February 23rd, more than two months after the agreement was reached on the CEP between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council. The CEP, once ratified will establish legally binding targets for waste recycling and the reduction of landfilling with clear deadlines. These targets will increase the share of municipal waste and packaging waste that is recycled, with specific targets for the recycling of materials used in packaging. The rules also include targets for reducing the amount of municipal waste, which is landfilled. The European states will have to reach a 55% municipal recycling rate by 2025 and 65% by 2035. Specific targets for packaging are also included for all packaging (70%), plastic (55%), wood (30%), ferrous metals (80%), aluminium (60%), glass (75%) and paper and cardboard (85%). Other measure will include separate collection for textile waste and hazardous waste, ensure that bio-waste is either collected separately or recycled at source. This should boost other circular economy strategies like service-as-a-product, repair and reuse practices. Renewable Matter has interviewed at the Circular Economy Stakeholder Forum in Brussels KÄï¿½stutis Sadauskas, Director, DG Environment of the European Commission, which has followed the negotiations of the Package very closely.
What are the main features in this new circular economy package?
“It’s a review of the waste legislation. And while waste is only a part of the circular economy, without straight solutions there is no circular economy. It’s a very good package, a forward-looking one, it has high targets but also small targets, for waste management. For example, it reforms the methodology of calculation of recycling: it simplifies it, totally harmonizes it. This helps to know for sure what is recycled and how much. Before the CEP there were four calculations in 12 different combinations, which made compare one country to the other impossible.
“We are strengthening one of the most successful market-based instruments for the circular economy: extended producers responsibilities. It’s proven to be a very powerful tool, but it needs to be improved. What have we proposed in our draft legislation? We have to increase transparency, accountability, auditability and link to circularity. This is the general requirements we propose to put in the law and then it will be down to the member states to decline or to apply according to their national regional specific circumstances, but the general principles have to be there. Producers who participate pay a fee. They deserve to know where the money goes and that they are put to a good use, and that’s what we are trying to fix with the extended producer responsibility.
“Collection of biowaste is another key element that has been neglected for a long time and it’s a very problematic, because of the release of CO2 and equivalent gasses, it’s a loss of very valuable materials, which can be composted, fertilized, you can do a lot of good things.”
Will there be more “renewable matter” for new materials or for energy?
“Materials are usually much times more valuable than energy, that is the last part squeezed out of the lemon, but what we want is the juice, the vitamin, the fibre. So there will be a lot of things that will be forward looking and that will simplify life, but at the same time it will be demanding to reach out for more circularity. This will benefit more economic operators because they know there is a certainty for investments; they know that Europe is really going to recycle more and to landfill less. So there will be new materials coming on to the market.”
Will there also be more funds coming from Europe for circular enterprises?
“It’s already the case, it’s a choice for the member states, for the regions, for the operators to use the funds that are already available, whether it is cohesion funds or international, aid, all of those are available.
“The question is if the member states and all those who can apply would like to fight for those funds and use them for the circular economy rather than for something else. It’s their choice. The money is there. I argue it is very good to invest in the circular economy solution, because these are long lasting solutions, they create jobs, they make the economy grow, they make everything more sustainable, they make Europe more competitive, they help preserve the industrial base in Europe and help especially the suffering regions with a low skilled workforce to get on the ground and to start something new. So it really delivers multiple achievements at the same time, it’s a very good investment. I trust the wisdom of the applicants of those who enjoy the funds that are really investing into smart solutions.”
Has the CEP raised interest from USA or China?
“Absolutely. There is big international interest, people follow. Definitely China, lots of countries in Asia, in North America, Canada, Africa, Latin America, I can confirm that. The EU Commission organizes circular economy missions around the world. European businesses meet with many authorities in different countries, Chile, Iran, South Africa, China, Colombia, Indonesia, India and Mexico. Countries which want to adopt those solutions. We offer solutions and open up the market for European producers at the same time.”
Which parts do you think are missing in the package, what else has to be done?
“The action plan is as it stands right now. We need to complete it and there is plenty to do about the product policy. We have a new work plan for the ecodesign, which we need to implement. We need to be very responsible about how we do it but there is a lot of potential. The new waste legislation and the Extended Producer Responsibility scheme will incentivize better design for circularity, namely waste prevention, so it will have an impact on the products. The implementation of the chemicals legislation also impacts the design and the products, how it’s produced, what materials are chosen. So we already have enough on our plate, we have enough instruments. What we promise to do is to look into this instruments altogether to reinforce their coherence and see if there’s even more that can be achieved from it, if there are any gaps and if there is anything else that needs to be done.”
At the Stakeholder conference there was a lot of attention on the issue of plastic. Why is it so important and which steps will the Commission take in the future?
“We summarize that issue in the EU Plastic Strategy, a complex document that sets important goals. By 2030, all plastics packaging placed on the EU market is either reusable or can be recycled in a cost effective manner. Our narrative is this: plastic is an indispensable material, we can’t live without it, it made our life easier, more comfortable. Plastic is an easy and cheap material. Unfortunately, plastic doesn’t degrade, as fast as we piloted, and it is a major environmental problem. We need to make sure that we collect it all and recycle it, while making sure that the environment is not damaged, regulating micro-plastic. We also need to look into the bioeconomy for the plastic. There are big opportunities there but we need to be careful we won’t regret our decisions.”
Do we have to shift to other materials and try to substitute as much as we can?
“It depends on which ones. There are plastics that are contaminated by heavy metals which weren’t banned when they were produced but now they are. In that case we need to safely dispose of them and to replace them with something that’s safer and better. The other plastics need to be recovered and collected in the right way and put back in the economy. I think with that Europe would reduce its dependence on fossil fuels imports and raw materials, reducing its dependency.”
Given the rising complexity of the matter market, thanks also to the CEP, do we need a sort of passport for materials to make sure of the origin?
“Ideally yes, we need to know where materials come from. We need to be sure that we source from the right responsible businesses and we don’t bring in timber that came from cutting down the jungle or the materials that have been produced using child labour, that’s absolutely a must. The question is: How can we do it? The key is to track especially chemicals, know where they come from, how many of them are present, what is their effects. If you have waste, which is contaminated by some chemical toxic substances, no recycler will want to take them, because they can’t sell the recycled materials afterwards. You have to make sure they know the composition of that waste; they need to trace upwards the origin of it. Technical enforcement is very, very complicated. How do you track and trace thousands of various streams in millions of various value chains? We need to solve it in a cost efficient smart way. Digital technology probably could be one of the ways to do it. But it is key to build the second raw material market, knowing for sure that it’s good quality stuff, that can be used to produce consumable goods that are safe enough, good quality, constant, cost is good so that it is competitive in every possible way.”