Pace of progress on circular economy needs to accelerate

10th June 2016

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  • Built environment ,
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  • Energy ,
  • Manufacturing



Stronger policies on energy and material resources are needed in Europe to boost progress towards a circular economy, according to a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The report gives an overview of national approaches and policies on resource efficiency across the 39 European countries who are members of, or cooperate with, the EEA. It notes that, between 2000 and 2014, resource use across these countries fell both in absolute terms (by 12%) and per person (from 15.5 to 13.1 tonnes per person).

However, the reductions were mainly due to the sharp decline in construction between 2007 and 2014 as a result of the financial crisis rather than policy intervention, the report states.

The agency says only Austria, Finland and Germany have dedicated national strategies for material resource efficiency, with Scotland and Flanders in Belgium operating strategies at a regional level.

In a survey for the report, the EEA found manufacturing was most frequently identified at a national level as key to improving material resource efficiency, followed by agriculture and forestry, construction and waste management.

Nine countries have adopted national targets for material resource efficiency: Austria, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Portugal and Slovenia. In most cases, the targets are based on gross domestic product relative to domestic material consumption.

Germany, the Netherlands and Flanders region each have dedicated circular economy strategies. These aim to create a production and consumption system that generates little waste and keeps materials in use for as long as possible.

Several other countries are prioritising policies aimed at closing material loops. However, the majority of initiatives focus on waste management, with only a few examples going beyond increasing recycling rates and making more use of secondary raw materials.

The report concludes that there is room for improvement in policy design and implementation, as well as significant potential to exchange good practice to reduce the big differences in performance between countries.

Meanwhile, work to develop a circular economy strategy across EU member states has moved forward with the publication last week of a draft report by Italian socialist policy lead MEP Simona Bonafè. The report will form the basis for amendments by the European Parliament’s environment committee to the European Commission’s circular economy package, published in December.

Bonafè suggests that amendments should focus on two main objectives; strengthening waste prevention measures and encouraging the development of an efficient secondary raw materials market.

Her amendments include:

  • Tightening up the definition of material reuse, which Bonafè proposes should be regarded as a specific waste prevention measure and incentivised by member states.
  • Introducing aspirational EU-wide targets to halve food waste and marine litter by 2030.
  • Implementing mandatory separate collection of paper, metal and plastic and glass.
  • Increasing repair and recycling targets for 2030 to 70%.
  • Introducing mandatory collection of biowaste by 2020 to support markets for compost and digestate as well as biogas.
  • Removing the caveat that allows member states an exemption from separating waste for recycling if they can prove it is not ‘technically, environmentally and economically practicable’ (TEEP).

Bonafè also suggests bringing the definition of municipal waste into line with the one used for statistical purposes by statistics agency Eurostat, and combining it with a single calculation method for all member states, rather than the four currently in use.

The European parliament is expected to vote on the final circular economy package early in 2017.


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