NGOs Urge EU Not to Water Down Circular Economy Package : IN DEPTH: Circular Economy Sabotage?

circular economy recycling waste management eu commission Piotr-Barczak Meadhbh Bolger

According to a number of NGOs “doublespeak” and heal dragging threaten to stifle The European Union’s Circular Economy Package.

A recent investigation by a number of environmental NGOs, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) and Friends of the Earth Europe (FoE) claims that certain countries are sabotaging the transition to a circular economy.

The organisations cite the European Council’s position, agreed in May by member states led by the Maltese Presidency behind closed doors, as being “currently significantly less ambitious than that presented by the European Commission and Parliament”.

Policymakers and the NGOs, along with a some major corporations, agree that moving to a circular economy is the only long term solution for both the planet and for business. However, as the negotiations on the EU waste proposals continue, the organisations say that a number of countries are shying away from their commitment to a stronger and more resource efficient economy.

According to the EEB, recent leaks from Council meetings and insights into national developments expose divide and doublespeak among EU countries.

For example, it says that Romania, despite claiming a supportive stance, backed a weak position on waste prevention and asked the Council for time derogations for recycling targets.

At home, the country is moving forward with plans to postpone the introduction of a landfill tax.

Meanwhile Poland’s latest position on recycling, as made clear in a recent meeting of environment ministers. Government officials, who in May refused to share their position with NGOs, calls for a 50% recycling target by 2030. But the existing target is 50% by 2020.

However, there is praise for Germany’s recently affirmed support for a 65% recycling target -as proposed by the European Commission, despite having previously dodged the question. This means that there is now strong support for higher recycling targets in many EU countries, particularly ones with high populations – something which the NGOs say the Presidency of the EU Council needs to take into account.

“The EU Council chaired by the Maltese Presidency was supposed to represent the interest of the European people on the waste front,” says Piotr Barczak, waste policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau. “Instead it raised uncertainty over the future of the circular economy in Europe.”

The Bureau argues that Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania and Latvia are the most regressive countries, opposing most of the proposals. It also calls out the Czech Republic, Italy, Sweden, Portugal and Luxembourg for rejecting higher ambitions on waste prevention despite backing higher recycling rates. It also says that even Germany fits in this category, for its opposition to waste prevention proposals – a priority in the circular economy.

Meanwhile Ireland, Slovenia, Croatia and the UK are chastised for refusing to share their position with NGOs, and appearing to remain silent in discussions.

Leaders in the negotiations remain, as NGOs announced last month, Greece, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain. These governments are calling for stronger support for recycling, waste prevention, preparation for reuse and better separate collection.

"This is the last chance for countries to set the agenda for how we produce and manage our waste in Europe over the next decade and longer – it is vital to take a long-term approach with ambitious, binding requirements to drive change," says Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

On that note, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain are praised for calling on stronger support for recycling, waste prevention, preparation for reuse and better separate collection.

Barczak concludes that if a regressive position is to prevail in the negotiations, plans to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in the coming years will most likely stall.

Economic Incentives Needed

A new study by Reloop Platform and Zero Waste Europe, claims that existing economic instruments can bring Europe to the “next stage of the Circular Economy”.

Conducted by The Catalan Foundation for Waste Prevention and Responsible Consumption, Rezero, the study examines existing measures and incentive schemes, which have been used successfully for products such as beverage containers, and identifies additional key waste streams that could benefit from such measures.

It argues that the implementation of measures such as deposit refund schemes, refundable taxes and buy back schemes could lead to a reduction in littering and a significant reduction in plastic pollution.

According to the researchers, despite widespread support for the circular economy, current policies continue to support a linear economy model. To support this assertion it ponts to “the unacceptably low” collection rates for textiles (<20%), cigarette butts (<35%), batteries (<40%), and even lower rates for other waste streams such as coffee capsules.

Other waste streams the report highlights are carpets, WEEE and coffee capsules.

“Deposit returns have been used to capture high quantities of empty beverage containers for decades,” sayd Clarissa Morawski, managing director of the Reloop Platform. “With more than 35 successful systems around the world and growing, maybe it’s time for governments to consider this economic instrument for their own countries or regions. Just look to the best practice programs and follow their lead.”

Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth

"There are towns, cities and regions all over Europe showing that with the right policy measures, producing less waste and reusing and recycling more is possible, and is good for the planet and people. There's simply no excuse for some of the most important measures to be watered down in these discussions," Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

Piotr-Barczak EEB:

“It won’t be hard for the upcoming Estonian Presidency to do better than the Maltese on the waste package. We expect them to be more resolute and listen to NGOs, businesses and policymakers calling for stronger waste laws for our future generations,” Piotr Barczak, waste policy officer at the EEB.