Sunday

30th Apr 2017

EU to change resource-wasting economic model

  • On average, people change their mobile phone every 18 months (Photo: Phil Greaney)

The European Commission is working on policy solutions it says are needed to better address the consequences of a rising population, excessive consumption, and dwindling resources.

Speaking to reporters in Hannover in April, EU environment commissioner Janez Potocnik said if the world continues its current per capita consumption trend and if the global population rises to 9 billion people, then by mid-century three times more resources would be needed to maintain the current style of living.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

“We have to change the way we produce, the way we consume, the way we basically live,” said Potocnik, who was attending the 16th annual European Forum on Eco-Innovation at the Hannover Messe.

The annual forum looked at what the commission describes as circular economies, an economic model which attempts to mimic nature in a wider effort to use resources more efficiently.

“In a linear economy you dig, produce, consume, throw away, dig deeper, produce consume, dig even more deeper, it’s becoming more costly, you have to go to more beautiful places, to places further away and so on,” he said.

Potocnik’s officials are set to publish over the summer an ideas paper on this circular model. The aim is to get companies to design products that can be easily dismantled or recycled an almost infinite number of times.

The Brussels executive is also set in June to present revised targets for the reuse and recycling of waste and reducing landfills.

Member state targets for recycling municipal and household waste are currently set at 50 percent by 2020. Potocnik wants to increase the percentages. He also wants to phase out the use of landfills.

Building construction and demolition constitutes more than one-third of waste produced in Europe. Around 70 percent is supposed to recycled or re-used, also by 2020.

Aside from metals, other materials found in construction waste such as glass, minerals, wood and different kind of plastics are often discarded.

But the problem of waste is more extensive than demolition sites.

A report out this month by the Brussels-based European Environmental Bureau (EEB) says ambitious targets for food waste reduction, reuse of textiles and furniture, and recycling, could help prevent the equivalent of around 415 million tonnes of CO₂ by 2030.

The EU, for its part, is locked in an economic model that continues to waste resources and discard large quantities of food.

Potocnik wants to pry apart the model and better adapt it to meet future needs via his circular economy recommendations.

The types of waste are extensive.

The world loses 30 percent of all the food it produces.

“It means we are losing one-third of all the land, water, energy, not to mention all the chemicals we are using to produce those plants,” said Potocnik.

The EU relies heavily on energy and mineral imports for copper, zinc, nickel, and rare earth metals used for smart technologies.

“You can produce a golden wedding ring from using ten tonnes of gold ore or recycling 10 kilos of mobile phones but we recycle in Europe still less than 10 percent of mobile phones,” said Potocnik.

On average, people change their mobile phone every 18 months. It means some 100 million mobile phones in the EU every year go unused.

“If you just recycle those you would get 2.4 tonnes of gold, 25 tonnes of silver, 1 tonne of palladium, 900 tonnes of copper yearly . . . but we do not,” he said.

Given the figures and other examples, Potocnik said it was no longer possible to dissociate the environment from the economy.

EU-US free trade deal

But earlier this year, the EEB along with nine other European health, transparency and environment NGOs, said the TTIP free trade deal currently being negotiated with the US risks weakening current EU environmental standards.

They noted, in a letter addressed to the commission, that member states might be reluctant to introduce new pro-environment legislation.

The worry is that the trade deal may include a so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism. ISDS allows foreign corporations to sue member states to protect their commercial interests without having to resort to domestic legislation.

Potocnik, for his part, said he is involved in the debates connected to the future trade agreement but dismissed any risk to having the EU standards lowered.

“That kind of mechanism [ISDS] is more needed when you have partner deal between two areas where there is a real worry that the legal system would not deliver properly. That worry between the United States and Europe is not so obvious but let’s not jump to any kind of conclusions,” he said.

Member states vary in EU 'polluter pays' rules

An EU directive aimed at supporting the "polluter pays principle" has resulted in a patchwork situation, but the European Commission is not yet ready to propose a change.

Column / Crude World

Nord Stream 2: The elephant in the room

The European Commission should provide a thorough impact assessment of Nord Stream 2, a project that appears to go against all of its Energy Union objectives.

News in Brief

  1. Vote of no confidence prepared against Spanish PM
  2. Syria to buy Russian anti-missile system
  3. Germany seeks partial burka ban
  4. Libya has no plan to stop migration flows
  5. EU has no evidence of NGO-smuggler collusion in Libya
  6. Poland gets 'final warning' on logging in ancient forest
  7. Commission gives Italy final warning on air pollution
  8. Romania and Slovenia taken to court over environment policies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCharlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum Tells Kids to "Eat Well, Drink Well, Move!"
  2. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey
  3. Counter BalanceParliament Sends Strong Signal to the EIB: Time to Act on Climate Change
  4. ACCARisks and Opportunities of Blockchain and Shared Ledgers Technologies in Financial Services
  5. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  7. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  8. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  9. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  10. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  11. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  12. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process

Latest News

  1. EU boasts unity on Brexit talks
  2. May’s election juggernaut
  3. EPP scolds Orban over university and NGO laws
  4. Oxford-Studie besorgt über 'Schrott' News in Frankreich
  5. Alte Freundschaft zwischen Le Pen und Putin
  6. EP chief faces questions after homophobic 'summit'
  7. EU signals Northern Ireland could join if united with Ireland
  8. One year later: EU right to open internet still virtual

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  2. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  3. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  4. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society
  6. European Free AllianceAutonomia to Normalnosc - Poland Urged to Re-Grant Autonomy to Silesia
  7. UNICEFHitting Rock Bottom - How 2016 Became the Worst Year for #ChildrenofSyria
  8. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  9. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  10. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  11. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  12. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved