The European Circular Economy


Each year, in Europe, about 600 million tonnes of waste could potentially be recycled or re-used. Only around 40% of the waste produced by EU households is recycled, with recycling rates as high as 80% in some areas, and lower than 5% in others. In a world of limited resources, turning waste into a resource is an essential part of increasing resource efficiency and moving towards a more circular economy.

The Circular Economy Package consists of an EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy that establishes a concrete and ambitious programme of action, with measures covering the whole cycle: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials. The Annex to the Action Plan sets out the timeline when the actions are expected to be completed.

The Package gives a clear signal to economic operators that the EU is using all the tools available to transform its economy, opening the way to new business opportunities and boosting competitiveness. The broad measures for changing the full product lifecycle go beyond a narrow focus on the end-of-life stage and underline the Commission’s clear ambition to transform the EU economy and deliver results. Innovative and more efficient ways of producing and consuming should increasingly emerge as a result of the incentives we are putting in place. The circular economy has the potential to create many jobs in Europe, while preserving precious and increasingly scarce resources, reducing environmental impacts of resource use and injecting new value into waste products. Sectoral measures are also set out, as well as quality standards for secondary raw materials. Key actions adopted so far or to be carried out under the current Commission’s mandate include:

  • funding of over €650 million under Horizon 2020 and €5.5 billion under the structural funds;
  • actions to reduce food waste including a common measurement methodology, improved date marking, and tools to meet the global Sustainable Development Goal to halve food waste by 2030;
  • development of quality standards for secondary raw materials to increase the confidence of operators in the single market;
  • measures in the Ecodesign Working Plan for 2015-2017 to promote reparability, durability and recyclability of products, in addition to energy efficiency;
  • a revised Regulation on fertilizers, to facilitate the recognition of organic and waste-based fertilizers in the single market and support the role of bio-nutrients;
  • a strategy on plastics in the circular economy, addressing issues of recyclability, biodegradability, the presence of hazardous substances in plastics, and the Sustainable Development Goals target for significantly reducing marine litter;
  • a series of actions on water reuse including a legislative proposal on minimum requirements for the reuse of wastewater.

Circular Economy

The Circular Economy missions are a series of high-level political and business meetings in third countries to communicate and promote sustainable and resource-efficient policies.

These initiatives have the potential of strengthening existing links and creating new ties between the EU and third country institutions in the field of environment, as well as supporting green European businesses – especially SMEs – to expand their activities abroad.

The Circular Economy Missions are conceived with three clear objectives:

  • to increase cooperation between the EU and third countries in the field of environmental policy. This can be achieved by signing political agreements directed at fostering the circular economy, green public procurement and innovative, sustainable and inclusive growth;
  • to achieve a better understanding of the environmental challenges faced by third countries;
  • to promote green solutions through business partnerships abroad. In this regard, the missions will organise matchmaking events between European and local entrepreneurs and will engage in exchange of views with targeted audiences.

Positive externalities in the job market (new and better jobs) and in international relations, along with the environmental goals, trigger off the Commission’s commitment to speed up the transition from a linear economy to a circular one. The Commission has calculated that increasing resource productivity by 2% would create two million new jobs in the EU by 2030. Many businesses have already recognized these facts and started to act accordingly. They have taken a leap to a different mind-set where the whole logic of successful business is turned upside down.  These firms have created new business models to deliver greater resource efficiency and circular models including increased renting, sharing, leasing, different types of industrial symbiosis, such as bioinnovations or remanufacturing.

A big part of the current legislation is created for the needs of the consume-and-throw-away-society and therefore has to be changed to fit the new world order. To drive the business revolution, we need to create a stable and predictable regulatory environment. We need commonly agreed and harmonized indicators and targets to measure the change. We need to abolish environmentally harmful subsidies. We need to draft legislation that will make sure that what is currently considered waste would not be considered as such anymore, but instead seen as a resource.

This requires a change in how things are being made: products need to become more durable, easier to upgrade, reuse, refit, repair, recycle and dismantle for their resources. Perhaps the most compelling reason to embrace resource efficiency and circular economy models is that we don’t really have a choice.

Factors such as resource efficiency, recovery, reuse and recycling of materials will become key elements of the production processes. More than just an opportunity, the circular economy is a necessity for Europe, since being able to compete in the global economy will be increasingly dependent on innovation and sustainability.

Nowadays, the big challenge is changing citizens’ and stakeholders’ mind-sets in order to overcome consumerism and develop a new productive system that takes into account our planet’s limited resources and cares about the legacy we will leave to future generations, as well as solidarity between regions around the world. Circular economy is a behavioral revolution first of all…

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