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How Europe should promote a circular economy

Waste and resources policy is very much back on Europe’s agenda.  The European Commission launched its long awaited review of the EU targets for recycling and landfill diversion at the start of June.  Two weeks later the European Resource Efficiency Platform, a prestigious group of politicians, officials, business people and green interests, published recommendations for action to promote a resource efficient Europe. 

Waste and resources policy is very much back on Europe’s agenda.  The European Commission launched its long awaited review of the EU targets for recycling and landfill diversion at the start of June.  Two weeks later the European Resource Efficiency Platform, a prestigious group of politicians, officials, business people and green interests, published recommendations for action to promote a resource efficient Europe. 

The holy grail of a resource efficient Europe and a “circular economy” is widely supported, but there is much less agreement on how best (and how fast) to get there.

While some commentators favour higher EU-wide recycling targets, plus landfill bans, the effectiveness of that approach is open to doubt. In an EU-27 where some countries landfill over 95% of their waste and others less than 5%, any common EU target will be too easy for some while impossible for others. Existing EU rules and targets should be met before new ones are introduced.

Instead of blunt instruments like targets and bans, a more nuanced set of policy measures is needed. ESA’s recent report “Going for Growth: A Practical Route to a Circular Economy”, sets out specific recommendations for action in partnership with all players in the value chain.  These include action at European level on eco-design to set recyclability requirements for products, and lower VAT rates for products with high recycled content.  

This is where Europe can make a real difference, complementing action taken at national and local level which reflects local circumstances.   

Roy Hathaway, Europe policy advisor, Environmental Services Association

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