Circular Economy Package: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

On 2 December 2015, the European Commission presented a new circular economy package to make Europe more resource efficient. The goal is to ‘close the loop’ of product lifecycles with more recycling and re-use in ways that benefit the environment and economy.

What do we think at Eurometaux about the package? We’ve analysed it all below. Thumbs up for the good stuff, thumbs down where more work is needed.

As policymakers and officials debate the package at the European Parliament and in Member States, you can bet Eurometaux will be part of the conversation.

Thumbs up

Addressing all parts of the material lifecycle

A circular economy goes further than just waste management. It’s about ensuring that the valuable materials embedded in products are recovered and returned to the EU economy.

The Commission’s proposal does take positive steps to address all parts of the material lifecycle. We now have commitments to improve the recyclability of products, to collect waste streams separately and to define standards and quality treatment conditions. They now need to be implemented properly by Member States and through the Action Plan. 

This wider focus is essential. Too many of Europe’s metals are still landfilled, incinerated, or exported without guarantee of proper treatment. Change is only possible if we start treating our metals as valuable resources to be managed properly, rather than just waste.

Measuring recycling rates more accurately

Although not widely reported, the Commission has made an important proposal to start measuring recycling rates after the ‘sorting’ phase.

This is a big step forward. Some Member States measure at the point of ‘collection’, resulting in artificially high rates since not all their waste is actually recycled.

This crucial change gives all Member States the same methodology to follow for measurement, making the system more accurate and honest.

Addressing quality recycling

We’re pleased that “high quality recycling” is finally on the Circular Economy agenda. We need to make sure our products and materials are recycled safely and efficiently, using state-of-the-art processes. Otherwise, we won’t capture their full value, and the environment could be harmed.

More measures are needed to make sure that all EU waste is recycled using quality processes (as outlined below), but the crucial distinction has at least been made.

Thumbs down

Certification remains voluntary

We were disappointed that several of the proposed measures remain voluntary, such as the certification scheme for recyclers of certain waste streams.

If Europe’s metals are to be recycled safely and efficiently, then certification needs to be mandatory for recyclers of products such as e-waste and portable batteries. That can also help to create a level playing field for European recyclers operating under quality conditions.

We need a single EU market for waste

Although the Commission recognised that there are still too many barriers when trading waste within Europe, their proposed actions are limited. That remains a big obstacle for EU recyclers.

We’d still like it to be easier for waste to be transported to “pre-consented” recovery facilities, easing administrative burden without weakening controls.

On a related note, stronger measures should also be introduced for tackling illegal waste exports.

Member States still need to walk the talk

Will Member States all actually implement the European Commission’s policies? Are they ready to ‘walk the talk’? Agreeing to the Package and actually doing it are two very different things.

Member States today are all playing by their own waste management rules, making bringing them into line a major challenge for the Commission. The jury’s out on whether the Commission’s proposals provide clear enough rules for a harmonised implementation.

Keeping Europe’s policymakers and officials honest and accountable is going to be a key focus for us in 2016.