The Circular Economy Package

The climate change negotiations in Paris are stealing all the headlines at the moment. As a result the European Commission’s launch of the new…

The climate change negotiations in Paris are stealing all the headlines at the moment. As a result the European Commission’s launch of the new Circular Economy Package on 2 December has flown slightly under the radar. It is an extremely significant development that will guide the growth of waste and resources legislation and related controls for the foreseeable future.

The Commission’s announcement identified a number of hard measures concerning amendments to 6 specific waste related Directives. The majority of the changes will introduce revised targets. They will also introduce other detailed measures, such as greater clarity around terms such as “by-products”. It is likely these changes will come forward in 2016 as part of the EU work programme.

The Commission announcement also identified a number of softer measures many of which can be found in the Action Plan. The lack of detail around these softer measures which relate mostly to non-waste considerations has caused a ripple of concern amongst a number of commentators. That is primarily because the only way the circular economy will succeed is if the Commission simultaneously addresses all parts of the circle e.g. raw material use, product design, consumer choices and also reuse, recovery and secondary markets for recycled products. The use of an action plan in relation to these other areas, rather than firm legislative proposals, is indicative of their complexity.

 

The Action Plan introduces a number of ‘voluntary’ measures to address some of these more complex issues. This should only be seen as a short to medium term solution. In the long term hard measures will be required to tackle these more complex issues.

The Package also advocates the further use of financial incentives to properly implement the waste hierarchy which is not favoured by the UK Government.

The development of markets for recycled materials and the promotion of ‘pull or demand side’ measures is of vital importance. Disappointingly there is not much detail around this in the Package. This ties into recent reports of the need for everyone to share the risk associated with the markets for, and price of, recyclable materials. In the absence of any specific demand side measures in the Package, the need for a new approach to the sharing of risk is even more urgent. No doubt we will see a move to develop a new approach in the contracts and models used by companies when procuring waste services.

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