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Defra and councils caution against EC circular economy proposals

The European Commission’s adoption of a policy package on the circular economy has been met with support from the UK recycling industry but scepticism within Defra and local government.

The EC has adopted a series of proposals to boost resource efficiency in Europe, including higher recycling targets and landfill bans. They have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council before coming into effect.

Industry bodies such as the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), the Environmental Services Association (ESA) and the Resource Association (RA) welcomed the policy framework.

“The direction of travel and the level of ambition set out in these proposals can only be applauded,” said ESA’s chairman David Palmer-Jones.

CIWM’s chief executive Steve Lee said: “This is a clear signal that the EU recognises the importance of waste and resource management to our future prosperity, resource security, green jobs and environmental protection, and it underlines the complex and valuable role that our industry will play in the future.”

RA’s chief executive Ray Georgeson praised the comprehensive nature of the package, which he described as “ambitious”. “Now is the time for the UK to engage with Europe and share in this ambition,” he said.

WRAP also welcomed the proposals, saying they supported the expansion of a “resource efficient circular economy model”, which will foster economic growth, job creation and environmental benefits, both in the UK and Europe.

“WRAP has and continues to work with multinationals through to SMEs to help them understand the innovations and operational factors needed to support viable commercial propositions.”

A “circular Europe” by 2020 would allow for business competitiveness improvements of €400bn (£318bn), it said.

But Defra said the EC may have “underplayed” the potential costs to business, householders and local authorities.

“While we support efforts to reduce waste we need to ensure that any new legislation would meet our priorities to protect the environment, incentivise growth and avoid unnecessary burdens,” said a spokesperson.

He added Defra wanted to fully consider the impacts of the proposals before responding to them.

The Local Government Association also pointed out the measures could be expensive to implement.

Mike Jones, chair of the LGA’s Environment and Housing Board, said: “Additional targets are not the most effective way to encourage this activity at local authority level and could lead to increased costs at a time when public resources are stretched.

He added the EC should focus more on design to ensure less material became waste, rather than “simply loading responsibility” on local authorities to meet targets.

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