The European Commission (EC) adopted a circular economy action plan on 11 March, just days after it published the Technical Expert Group’s (TEG) final taxonomy report on sustainable finance.
The action plan aims to make the EU economy ‘fit for a green future’ and strengthen the bloc’s competitiveness, while protecting the environment and giving new rights to consumers, the EC stated.
It is described as ‘one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal’, an ambitious roadmap towards a climate-neutral economy where growth is decoupled from resource use.
As suggested by the name, the action plan will introduce initiatives for the entire lifecycle of products; from design and manufacturing to consumption, repair, reuse, recycling and bringing resources back into the economy.
It introduces legislation and non-legislative measures and targets where action at EU-level brings value, according to the EC.
A sustainable product policy framework includes three main building blocks, including action on:
- Product design,
- Empowering consumers, and
- Sustainable production processes.
What does it propose?
Electronics and IT – The action plan will look to set up a circular electronics initiative to promote longer product lifetimes through reusability and reparability, as well as upgradeability of components and software to avoid premature obsolescence.
The sector will be a priority area for implementing a ‘right to repair’, the EC said.
Textiles – It is the fourth highest-pressure category for the use of primary raw materials and water, and fifth for greenhouse gas emissions.
The future strategy will boost the market for sustainable and circular textiles, including the market for textile reuse. It will support new consumption patterns and business models.
Plastics – Building on the 2018 Plastics strategy, the action plan will focus on increasing recycled plastic content.
Mandatory requirements on recycled content will be suggested in areas such as packaging, construction materials and vehicles.
It addresses also challenges related to microplastics and sourcing and use of bio-based plastics bio-based and biodegradable plastics.
On microplastics, the Commission will restrict the intentional adding of microplastics.
It will also work on their unintentional release, further developing and harmonising measurement methods, pursuing labelling, certification and regulatory measures, and consider measures to increase the capture of microplastics in wastewater.
Construction and Buildings – This sector consumes about 50% of all extracted material and is responsible for more than 35% of the EU’s total waste generation.
The Commission will adopt a comprehensive strategy for a sustainable built environment to promote circularity principles throughout the whole lifecycle of buildings.
The Commission will propose measures to ensure that the increase in the generation of packaging waste is reversed as a matter of priority, including by setting targets and other waste prevention measures.
Packaging – In 2017, packaging waste in Europe reached 173kg per inhabitant – its highest level ever.
The Commission will seek to ensure that the increase in the generation of packaging waste is reversed as a matter of priority, including by setting targets and other waste prevention measures.
Its aim is to make all packaging placed on the EU market reusable or recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030.
Batteries and Vehicles – The Commission will propose a regulatory framework for batteries.
It will include measures to improve the collection and recycling rates and ensure the recovery of valuable materials, sustainability requirements for batteries, the level of recycled content in new batteries, and the provision of information to consumers.
The Commission will also look to revise the rules on end-of-life vehicles in order to improve recycling efficiency, as well as rules to address the sustainable treatment of waste oils
Food – An estimated 20% of the total food produced is lost or wasted in the EU. The Commission will propose a target on food waste reduction as part of the EU Farm-to-Fork strategy.
That strategy will address the entire food value chain to ensure the sustainability of the sector – strengthening efforts to tackle climate change, protect the environment and preserve biodiversity.
The Commission will launch analytical work to determine the scope of a legislative initiative on reuse to replace single-use food packaging, tableware and cutlery by reusable products in food services.
Executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said: “To achieve climate-neutrality by 2050, to preserve our natural environment, and to strengthen our economic competitiveness, requires a fully circular economy.
“Today, our economy is still mostly linear, with only 12% of secondary materials and resources being brought back into the economy. Many products break down too easily, cannot be reused, repaired or recycled, or are made for single use only.
“There is a huge potential to be exploited both for businesses and consumers. With today’s plan we launch action to transform the way products are made and empower consumers to make sustainable choices for their own benefit and that of the environment.”