The E.U. tackles waste management through the circular economy

The E.U. tackles waste management through the circular economy

June 28, 2018

The E.U. tackles waste management through the circular economy

The new legislation aims to eliminate landfills and incinerators, making recycling a standard requirement for all packaging. Producers will be responsible for developing new manufacturing and disposal procedures.

Circular economy practices are important for achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations 2030 Agenda adopted in 2015. The circular economy is based on a regenerative model for the production and consumption of goods, where the materials, both biological and technical, are capable of being reintegrated into the biosphere or being reused. The concept was first defined in these terms by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the famous British foundation and now a global leader in financing projects connected to the circular economy. 

One of the basic precepts of the circular economy is to reduce waste to a minimum. Current initiatives aimed at limiting resource consumption merely contain the damage and are only slowing down the onset of a crisis that, being embedded in today’s linear economic model, is ultimately inevitable. Transitioning to the circular model is imperative if we are to avoid reaching the point of no return for the sustainability of the planet. 


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Key principles of the Circular Economy

Adopting a new approach involves redefining and rethinking every stage of the entire production chain and, according to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, this can be done by following five key principles:

1. Eco-designing, whereby products are designed knowing from the start that they will eventually be disassembled, and thus proper recycling is factored in at the very outset;

2. Keeping firmly in mind the concepts of modularity and versatility, and accordingly design products with the capacity to change and adapt based on changing conditions so they will not suddenly become unusable;

3. Using renewable resources, encouraging energy transition and phasing out fossil fuels;

4. Adopting an eco-systemic approach, not assuming relationships of cause and effect and thinking about the whole system in a holistic way;

5. Recovering materials and promoting recycling.

On this latter point, the European Union has recently presented its new rules as part of its Circular Economy Package. These will help produce less waste and, where this is not possible, increase recycling of municipal and packaging waste.

Europe at the forefron

The new legislation requires E.U. member states to adopt specific measures prioritizing prevention, reuse and recycling over waste disposal in landfills and incinerators, thereby turning the circular economy into a reality. Karmenu Vella, the European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, had this to say: “The final approval of new E.U. waste rules by the Council marks an important moment for the circular economy in Europe. The new recycling and landfilling targets set a credible and ambitious path for better waste management in Europe. Our main task now is to ensure that the promises enshrined in this waste package are delivered on the ground. The Commission will do all it can to support Member States and make the new legislation deliver on the ground.”

Waste management has greatly improved in the last 25 years. In 1995, on average, 64 percent of municipal waste was disposed of in landfills, but within five years the average had already dropped to 55 percent. Sixteen years later, in 2016, just 24 percent of municipal waste was sent to landfills and recycling had risen to 46 percent. But there are still significant differences between the various E.U. countries. In 2016, ten member states landfilled over 50 percent of their waste, and six of these sent 40 percent or more to incinerators. The targets set by the new regulations are ambitious. By 2035, 65 percent of municipal waste will have to be recycled, while even higher targets for some packaging waste like ferrous metals (80%), paper and cardboard (85%) and glass (75%) must be met by 2030. 

Since landfills make no sense in a circular economy, by 2035 the amount of landfilled waste must be reduced to a maximum of 10 percent of the total amount of generated municipal waste. During this transition, producers will be held responsible for their products when these become waste. According to the policy document, the results of the legislation will be boosted by the new requirements for extended producer responsibility and by the production and disposal schemes that must be in place for all packaging by 2024.


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