The European Parliament has voted to support the Green Deal for Europe, backing proposals which include a circular economy action plan, an EU-wide model for separate collection of waste and rules on mandatory recycled content.
After the European Green Deal was first put forward by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in December, MEPs have now agreed to adopt the Deal under the condition that amendments are made.
Policies to tackle the climate crisis are at the heart of the Deal, which commits the EU to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, with a European Climate Law to be presented by March 2020. MEPs have called for the Climate Law to include higher ambitions, suggesting that the law sets a 2030 goal of a 55 per cent reduction in emissions compared to 1990. A Just Transition Fund has also been proposed to support the end of fossil fuel dependence.
With regards to the resources and waste industry, the Green Deal highlights the need for the mobilisation of industry, with a circular economy action plan proposed to support the circular design of products, prioritising reducing and reusing products before recycling them, and focusing particularly on resource-intensive sectors such as textiles, construction, electronics and plastics.
Increasing the amount of recycled content used in EU industry is also central to the Green Deal – the Commission notes that only only 12 per cent of input materials used across the EU are recycled. The EU has already set ambitious recycling targets in its Circular Economy Package of 2018, which sets a municipal recycling rate target of 60 per cent 2030.
The Green Deal will also bring in legislation to ensure that all packaging in the EU market is reusable or recyclable in an economically viable manner by 2030 at the latest, whilst also taking action on both primary and secondary microplastics and developing a regulatory framework for biodegradable and bio-based plastics.
MEPs have now urged the Commission to propose targets for separate collection, waste reduction, reuse and recycling, and the implementation of extended producer responsibility (EPR) regimes for certain waste streams. The Commission has also been asked to further step up EU measures against plastic pollution, with MEPs calling for wider restrictions on single-use plastic items.
‘A timely declaration of ambition’
Pascal Canfin, Chair of the Environment Committee, said: “Parliament overwhelmingly supported the Commission’s proposal on the Green Deal and welcomes the fact that there will be consistency between all European Union policies and the objectives of the Green Deal. Agriculture, trade and economic governance and other policy areas must now be seen and analysed in the context of the Green Deal.”
Joan Marc Simon, Executive Director of Zero Waste Europe, commented: “Zero Waste Europe welcomes the new European Green Deal, it is a timely declaration of ambition. We note that it will require revisiting most EU policies produced to date, some of them having to be completely reversed.
“With current EU governance structures it will be difficult to deliver unless proper reforms are put in place to allow for the right legal and economic incentives to be established. We warn that given the scale and speed of the changes proposed it will also demand changing how EU policy-making works today. This is an enormous challenge that will put us all to a test. Zero Waste Europe will engage in the process, bringing our expertise, network and resources to make the European Green Deal work for a Zero Waste Europe.”
Whilst the Deal has been widely welcomed, some have called for even greater ambition. Nigel Harvey, CEO of Recolight, explained: “The EU’s green deal certainly has a broad scope, encompassing a wide range of policy measures. For the waste and resources sector, it is pleasing that they note that only 12 per cent of the materials used by EU industry come from recycling.
That implies we may see some real ‘pull’ measures to require greater use of raw materials from recycled sources. Some of the measures in the resources sector are largely a restatement of the circular economy package, and so we can expect to be familiar with the detailed actions. The four priority product areas (textiles, construction, WEEE, and plastics) all make sense.
“Their proposal to at least double the current rates of renovation of buildings should drive faster adoption of new energy saving technologies (such as LED lighting), so displacing product that becomes waste.
“Overall though, there is not enough ambition. Whilst it is encouraging to see the Commission proposing to be climate neutral by 2050, that may be too late to prevent, in David Attenborough’s words ‘irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies’.”
FEAD’s position paper
The European Federation of Waste Management (FEAD) has welcomed the European Green Deal, publishing a position paper explaining the role that private waste management companies play in enabling the circular economy by investing in recycling infrastructure and technologies.
FEAD’s position paper highlights that the EU could become climate neutral by 2050 by ‘having a wider consideration in the reduction of CO2 in the entire economic chain’ rather than segment emissions produced at each step in the waste management chain. The position paper also calls for a move away from landfill, describing energy recovery from waste as an ‘ally to more recycling’, whilst also warning of the carbon impacts of relocating waste management activities outside the EU.
Extended producer responsibility
Calls for an EPR regime for certain resource-intensive products, which would see producers take financial responsibility for the treatment and disposal of their products, have come from both MEPs – who have urged the EU Commission to push through with such a policy – as well as the waste and resources industry.
A recent proposal from Environmental Action Germany (DUH), Zero Waste Europe (ZWE), Zero Waste France, Changing Markets, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) has called for mandatory EPR schemes at EU level to boost the circularity of the carpet industry, which produces an estimated 1.6 million tonnes of waste annually – the majority of which ends up in landfill or incineration.
ZWE has previously urged the European Commission and EU member states to drive the carpet industry’s circular economy, arguing that an EPR system for carpets would help increase the currently low recycling rate.
Elena Schägg, DUH’s expert on the circular economy, explained: “72 per cent of a public consultation carried out by the Commission believe that the EU legal framework to cover the waste handling of textiles is insufficiently developed.
“At the same time, technical solutions for circular carpets, like mono- or easy separable duo-layer carpets without harmful substances are already on the market today. But the carpet industry obviously wants to continue with its non-ecological and linear disposal strategy as long as possible for the purpose of maximising profits and maintaining outdated structures. We ask the EU Commission to act now and put in place mandatory rules for the carpet sector.”
You can view the Green Deal for Europe’s policy proposals in the Commission’s official communication to the European Parliament.