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Circular economy proposals - more reaction

The package of directives and other proposals that comprise the European Commission’s Circular Economy (CE) has provoked widespread comment within the waste and resource management sector.

  • Viridor’s chief executive Ian McAulay, pictured, thought Europe had thrown away “old thinking” about waste, while the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group welcomed an emphasis on remanufacturing.
  • DS Smith business development and external affairs manager Peter Clayson said there were “missed opportunities” where the Commission could have developed a stronger programme.
  • Shanks chief executive Peter Dilnot said there was room for refinement
  • Plasterboard manufacturer Siniat was concerned that audits prior to the demolition of a building deconstruction have not been made mandatory.
  • RWM chair Barry Dennis said more could be done
  • Friends of the Earth bemoaned the local targets in the new package.
  • That view chimes with that of Carole Dieschbourg, head the EU Council of ministers for the environment, who tweeted (see below) that the CE package “needs ambition on reduction targets, no watering down”.
  • FTI Consulting, which has offices in Brussels, felt that any transition to a CE faced barriers and challenges and cautioned: “it remains questionable whether a quick political agreement with the European Parliament can be struck”. See analysis here

Need for integrated service models

Viridor called it a “balanced” package which would “boost British recycling” but warned of a need for new regional resource networks to translate policy into practice.

Chief executive McAulay said: “Europe has thrown away old thinking about waste and is recognising the value of resources. The fresh EU package strikes the right balance across 28 member states with differing requirements for collections, recycling and recovery infrastructure. Importantly it provides a practical framework for boosting British recycling, designing in recyclability and designing out waste, promoting sustainable sourcing and green public procurement.

“Whilst the package is ambitious and evidence based, only fresh thinking and bold action to replicate British and European best practice, will address the significant barriers to be overcome in order to realise the economic opportunity of a more circular economy.

“We have excellent examples in the UK of aggregated, integrated service models operating at the required economic scale. These include Greater Manchester where an innovative resource partnership between the public and private sector serves 2.2m people across 1m households.

“Against a backdrop of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, what’s being achieved in Manchester and elsewhere points to best practice fit for replication.  Regional resource networks, where resource policy is aggregated across council boundaries mapping infrastructure to economic development, are the key to boosting stagnating recycling rates.”

‘Does not go far enough’

DS Smith felt the package should have been more ambitious and was disappointed at lower aspirations to reduce landfill and increase recycling. Peter Clayson said: “While we welcome the publication of the CE Package we feel there are some missed opportunities where the European Commission could have developed a stronger programme.

“The package reflects the need to look at the whole lifecycle of a product from the design stage through to the end of its life. We welcome the proposal to differentiate financial contributions paid by producers under an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme that rewards those who design products that can be more easily recycled or reused.

“Material efficiency and design for reuse, repair and recycling should be embedded in all products from the design stage. Part of this process should include incentives to encourage recovery and recycling at the end of a product’s life.

“While a binding target to reduce landfill to a maximum of 10% is good news I wonder if increasing the recycling targets for municipal waste to 65% by 2030 is ambitious enough. The targets are still weight based, rather than moving to a carbon metric that would better reflect materials’ environmental impact.

“In too many areas the programme does not go far enough to tackle what is required. The Commission accepts that incineration is better than landfill but could have done more to stop the huge volumes of recyclable materials that are needlessly incinerated through poor collection choices.”

‘Significant positive step’

Shanks Group chief executive Peter Dilnot was pleased the European Commission had taken “a significant positive step” towards achieving a sustainable future by releasing its CE package.

He said: “We welcome the approach which aims to drive improved recycling and reuse across all 28 member states. The intent of the CE package is fully aligned with our waste-to-product model, especially given its focus on the waste hierarchy. Our business model is centred on making valuable products from waste rather than on its disposal through mass burn incineration or landfill.

“We are supportive of the CE package and of the sustainable activities it is designed to encourage across the EU, but we also think there is room for refinement. Firstly, the recycling targets could be more ambitious and specific. Secondly, we think that greater clarification is needed around waste-to-energy, particularly in relation to driving more recycling rather than incineration. We will actively engage in the process of refining the package from here and look forward to supporting its implementation in due course.”

‘Much more can be done’

Barry Dennis, chair of RWM said: “Our sector is at the heart of innovation to recover valuable resources, but we need to stop thinking inefficient use of materials is a problem for the recycling and waste management industry to solve single-handedly. The CE will only be achieved when everyone from all sectors including manufacturing, retail, technology and consumers see the cost benefits of being more resourceful with materials.

“The package is a step in the right direction but much more can and should be done to ensure that resources are no longer treated as problematic waste. Now that the CE concept is taking hold, there is real potential for reusable resources to result in significant economic, environmental and social gains.”

British Plastics Federation

“Plastics are essential to the development of a circular economy. In the UK, in so many fields, there is an impressive record of recycling from bottles to window frames and many of our products are reused.

“Resource efficiency, the concept which underpins the EU package of proposals, is synonymous with the UK plastics industry and its evolution. It plays to the strengths of plastics material products. The EU proposals certainly raise detail issues which will need serious debate with the regulators before they settle into a final form, such as the integration of targets for re-use and recycling, and the precise point at which recycling is measured. We also fear that the provision on extended producer responsibility could introduce a new cost for manufacturers.

“There was a distinct lack of ambition on preventing all recyclables from going to landfill, with a figure of 90% defined by 2030; although we do accept that this is a step in the right direction. We hope that the strategy for plastics, which is due for completion by 2017, recognises the full benefits of which plastics bring to society and the absolutely essential role plastics will play in innovative manufacture in the 21st century. This is an industry which the EU needs to encourage and not deflate.

“We will be looking forward to working with UK Government and the European Union in the developments of the strategy.

‘Building audits should be mandatory’

Siniat gave a guarded welcome to the package, saying it hoped it would help to drive a step change across UK construction to recover and reuse more buildings materials. Siniat, formerly Lafarge Plasterboard, has been taking part in Gypsum to Gypsum, an EU-funded, pan-European research project to help the plasterboard industry switch to a CE. 

Steve Hemmings, head of sustainability, said: “This announcement sees the EU recognise construction as central to a fully functioning CE and the support for the sorting of gypsum appears for the first time in legislation. However, it is disappointing to see that building audits prior to a building’s deconstruction have not been made mandatory. This is a missed opportunity which would have helped our industry to recover and re-use more materials so they can be a key component in the manufacture of new building products.

“If we are really serious about the CE, deconstruction audits should be compulsory when a building is being dismantled. This is required to drive a dismantling culture and the recovery of valuable materials. Hand in hand with this we need to design, specify and build for recyclability.”  

Promote innovation

ACE UK, which represents leading beverage carton manufacturers, supports the Commission’s initiative for a coherent policy but believes the proposals fall short in promoting the use of renewable materials and innovation in recycling technologies.

Richard Hands, chief executive of ACE UK said: “The beverage carton industry fully supports the realisation of a CE but, as all economies must continue to have access to primary resources and materials, it is important to create conditions whereby these materials can be responsibly sourced, to protect their future supply. We also believe that the proposals should be strengthened to encourage the use of renewable resources, such as wood fibre, which play a vital role in helping Europe to reduce carbon and be less dependent on valuable non-renewable resources.

“We will be looking closely at the proposed review of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive,” he added. “But just increasing the recycling targets for key materials won’t be sufficient. We believe that measures must be taken to strengthen existing recycling solutions, and foster innovation in new recyclable materials and techniques to further increase recycling of beverage cartons across Europe.”

Disappointment over targets

Friends of the Earth said the proposals were an improvement on the status quo but falls short in many areas:

  • The target for reuse and recycling of municipal waste has been reduced to 65% by 2030, as opposed to the previous package’s target of 70%.
  • The previous package contained a target mandating EU member states to reduce food waste by 30% between 2017 and 2025. The new proposal sets no targets. 
  • There is no longer a target for an overall reduction in the total amount of resources we use.
  • If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it. Despite this, the Commission has ducked earlier plans to measure the four ‘footprints’ of land, water, carbon and raw materials.

The Commission’s proposal is a disappointment in that it doesn’t nearly go far enough. It is now on the Parliament and member states to ensure that high recycling targets are maintained, and that binding obligations to reduce absolute resource consumption are included in the final package.

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