Withdrawal of the circular economy package: A missed opportunity for sustainable growth

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.com PLC.

Go circular! [Zeronaut.be]

It will be a missed opportunity if the European Commission were to drop the Circular Economy package from its 2015 Work Programme, writes Erik Bouts.

Erik Bouts is President of the European Container Glass Federation (FEVE)

Global demand for resources is forecast to triple by 2050. As such, our society needs to seriously reconsider the way in which we source, produce and consume goods. We currently consume more than one and a half’s worth of our planets’ natural resources. This is set to rise to two planet’s worth by 2050 if we fail to improve our production and consumption habits. To stop the cycle of excessive consumption in its tracks, we need an economic model that produces virtually no waste, where raw materials are continuously used, reused and recycled in a closed loop – a circular economy.

This past July, the European Commission published its Circular Economy package, which aims to deliver increased resource efficiency through reuse and high-quality recycling processes. But as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker considers his work plan for 2015, it is now facing the chop.

The circular economy package proposal is crucial to reconciling growth and sustainability. In the face of a sluggish economic outlook – jobs, growth and investment are on top of the European political agenda. It has never been as clear as now, that if we are to achieve a sustainable and economically stable future any type of growth must occur in tandem with environmental progress.

The container glass industry is a vital industrial player, as it has already achieved a closed-loop production cycle. Glass is 100% recyclable and once produced, it remains permanently available to be recycled through the same production process over and over again – from bottle to bottle, without material quality losses. This allows the industry to reduce energy and CO2 emissions throughout the glass production process.

On the recycling front, this industry generates businesses and jobs for citizens who are now helping to recover more than 70% of all post-consumer glass packaging in the EU, and keeping valuable resources out of landfills. In terms of competitiveness, it contributes up to €9.5 billion to the EU GDP. And then there is the employment agenda, where the industry has more than 155 plants in Europe, maintaining 125,000 jobs across the EU.

As demand for resources continues to grow, we must focus on paving the way towards a more resource efficient future – and this is one where the container glass industry plays a strategic role.  

The Circular Economy package sends an important signal about Europe’s sustainability ambitions and how they can be realistically reconciled with our economic agenda. On the one hand it is an opportunity to boost jobs, growth and investment; and on the other hand to limit waste and harmful emissions to the environment, reduce dependence on resources and decrease costs. Industries with permanent materials such as container glass are already making a circular economy real, even in difficult economic times.

That said, to make this happen, the industry needs a predictable policy framework that provides certainty for future investment decisions. The Circular Economy package is not only important for achieving a better use of resources but, more generally, it is an imperative element to achieving sustainable growth in Europe.

It will be a missed opportunity if the European Commission were to drop the Circular Economy package from its 2015 Work Programme. We, the container glass industry, call upon the European Parliament, who has yet to give its views on the Commission’s Work Programme before any withdrawals are formalised, to ensure that this package becomes a reality. However, should this critical initiative indeed be removed, we must absolutely ensure that it is revived as a new proposal next year.