Waste Framework Directive : New report: Sustainable future needs radical rethinking of EU materials and waste policy

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The recently published White Paper "Reimagining the Waste Framework Directive" published by Handelens Miljøfond, Minderoo Foundation, TOMRA and Zero Waste Europe identifies the urgent steps needed to ensure the European Union stays on track to create a sustainable future for its citizens.

The White Paper, developed by Eunomia Research & Consulting, sets out a vision for 2040 where society uses materials and products more efficiently in an economy that is well on its way to becoming circular.

According to the report the forthcoming revision of the Waste Framework Directive, which has guided EU policy in this area since 1975, offers an opportunity to develop a coherent and consistent policy framework for a circular economy - however, the scope of the revision is currently insufficient to put the EU on the right track.

Cecilie Lind, CEO of Handelens Miljøfond said: “This White Paper demonstrates the urgency of rethinking our approach to materials and waste policy in order to build a sustainable and circular economy by 2040, and the revision of the Waste Framework Directive is a critical step in achieving that goal.”

Less extraction from virgin resources

A truly circular economy would mean much less extraction and use of virgin resources, with an emphasis on a service economy that keeps products and materials in circulation for as long as possible, making full use of digital technologies, systems and data to manage our use of materials and products.

The White Paper also sets out an accompanying blueprint for a policy framework that will drive these changes effectively and at scale, using the power of the single market to give companies the confidence to invest in the new business models needed to deliver prosperity and profitability while reducing material use.

Joan Marc Simon, Director-Founder of Zero Waste Europe, added: “It’s imperative that the EU makes it easier and cheaper for citizens, businesses, and organisations to make the right choices. Unless we make EU policies fit for purpose we can’t shift away from current inefficient linear take-make-waste economic models.”

The White Paper suggests a short-term revision of the WFD (by 2026) to provide

  • Softer regulation for the reuse, repair and remanufacture of products, and clarity for industry on the environmental performance required of reuse systems.
  • More consistency in the scope and application of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and a more granular recycling hierarchy to characterise 'high quality' recycling.
  • An enabling environment for the rapid decarbonisation of waste treatment and disposal.

Better sorting of mixed waste

Ultimately, the WFD would need to be transformed into a Resources Framework Directive by 2029, extending the scope and remit of the framework to also include the reduction of resource use and introducing a material use hierarchy to guide the use of different types of materials to maximise decarbonisation.

Dr Marcus Gover, who leads a team of scientists and policy experts at Minderoo Foundation, said: “In a circular economy, consumers will reap the benefits of higher-quality products that last longer while at the same time reducing the harmful impacts materials like plastics, especially microplastics in clothing and tyres, have on our environment.”

Wolfgang Ringel, Senior Vice President Group Public Affairs at TOMRA commented: “More needs to be done to encourage the proper collection, sorting, and recycling of valuable material that is simply thrown away. Implementing legally defined (in other words, mandatory) obligations covering the use of resources, and their responsible handling, is the way forward to ensure a sustainable future for society and our planet.”

Dr Chris Sherrington, Head of Policy at Eunomia Research & Consulting concluded: “We are looking forward to engaging with stakeholders over the next six months on our ideas to help design a regulatory framework which can spur innovation and give businesses the confidence to invest, innovate and deliver the transition to a circular economy. We know these changes need to happen, it’s best to act now and work together in an open, transparent, and collaborative fashion to determine the best way to do so.”