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26th Sep 2020

Public consultation on circular economy starts 'in few days'

  • 'We are going to look at products before they become waste, when they are produced' (Photo: Phil Greaney)

Citizens and businesses will be able to influence the EU commission's revised circular economy strategy using a public consultation which will be launched “in a few days”, a commission official said on Thursday (21 May).

Aurore Maillet, member of the cabinet of environment commissioner Karmenu Vella, told an audience on Thursday that the commission is examining how it can “promote circular economy across the whole value chain”.

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  • Service industries and sharing of goods are expected to grow as part of the circular economy (Photo: John Sattar)

The circular economy is a theoretical concept in which waste is being re-used as a new resource to limit the negative effects of the scarcity of raw materials.

But it is about more than just recycling. In a perfect circular economy, what will happen to material is considered already at the design phase of a product.

“Since the industrial revolution, our economies have developed a ‘take-make-consume and dispose’ pattern of growth — a linear model based on the assumption that resources are abundant, available, easy to source and cheap to dispose of”, according to the previous commission's strategy paper on circular economy.

The paper was accompanied by a legislative proposal for a revision of recycling and waste legislation.

Shortly after the Juncker commission took office, it indicated it would scrap the proposal.

After a public outcry, the commission announced it will table “a broader, more ambitious” package that will replace proposals drawn up by president Juncker's predecessor.

“It's good to look at waste, but we need to close the circle”, said Maillet at an event in Brussels organised by the European Policy Centre.

“We need to look beyond that and have a more holistic approach which is really what makes a difference in the new commission.”

Two parts

The new circular economy package will consist of two parts.

The first is a revised legislative proposal on targets for reducing waste. The degree to which material is recycled varies greatly among EU countries, with Germany recycling almost half of the material, and Romania depositing almost everything in landfills.

The commission wants a “country-specific approach” to goals on reducing waste, but Maillet said that does not mean that there will be national targets.

“We are still looking at what is the best way to make the waste targets and waste proposal as such more country-specific.”

She noted that the commission already has “a lot of input” for the waste legislation which it will use, including an impact assessment, a public consultation, and ideas from the EU parliament and member states.

The second part of the package will be an “action plan” on the rest of the circular economy.

“We are going to look at products before they become waste, when they are produced”, Maillet said, adding that the “consumption aspect” will also be involved.

The online consultation will take three months, but Maillet said she is confident the dialogue is not going to delay the process. The commission has promised the circular economy strategy will be published before the end of the year.

A chance of convincing member states

The new rules will need approval from the European Parliament and the national governments.

Although the commission was criticised for withdrawing the original circular economy package, one diplomatic source from the member states told this website that that previous set of rules was "never going to go anywhere anyway" because it only covered the recycling side, not the production side of the economy.

"Now they have a chance to come up with a real package that has a chance of convincing the member states, and that has a chance to put the EU economy on the path of greater resource efficiency", the source said.

"I think the commission will want to go down [in history] as a commission that has put sustainability at the centre of what they're doing."

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