This article is part of our special report Resource efficiency: towards a circular economy.
The EU's roadmap for a resource-efficient Europe received a green light from the European Parliament yesterday (24 May), in a bid to “turn talk into reality” for green economic growth.
“Implementation of my report would mean economic growth, creation of jobs, and protection of the environment,” said the Dutch Liberal MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, who drafted the report on behalf of the Parliament.
"What are we waiting for?" he asked.
The resolution was adopted with a large majority of 479 votes in favour, 66 against and 63 abstentions.
"Resource efficiency is necessary for sustainable growth. To turn the talk into reality, clear choices need to be made," the Dutch Social Democrat MEP Judith Merkies said.
"It is possible to find a profitable business model that buoys an environment friendly, socially just and de-materialised economy and Europe must lead the way," she added.
Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE) welcomed the vote's support of policies to cope with a future of more constrained and expensive resources. But they warned that the EU needs clear targets in order to face the challenge of resource scarcity.
"To fully benefit from this, it’s vital Europe also addresses its over-consumption of the world’s increasingly scarce natural resources – by developing targets to reduce, in absolute terms, Europe’s resource use,” said Ariadna Rodrigo, resource use campaigner for FoEE.
One of the report's signature achievements was a declared aim for a ban on waste landfilling in Europe.
A report by Denmark's European Environmental Agency found that in 2006 alone, member states produced some three billion tonnes of waste — an average of six tonnes per person.
“The EU is committed to reducing waste generation, but is not succeeding,” the EEA study says.
MEPs voted to phase out landfill waste across the EU by the end of the decade, in a bid to increase the recycling and composting of refuse. With this in mind, they urged the Commission to revise the 2020 recycling targets set in the Waste Framework Directive.
The report also called for the creation of task forces to address resource consumption in three key areas: food, housing and mobility. These would consist of experts from the Commission, member states, industry and civil society, all devising efficiency action plans.
However, MEP's voted against Gerbrandy's proposal to set a deadline for the implementation of these task forces.
The report also called on the Commission to update the existing Ecodesign Directive, to improve energy efficiency product standards.
Gerbrandy's main intention was to inject resource efficiency with a sense of urgency and trigger an overhaul of the "secondary material market" for recycled materials such as plastics, metals or paper.
Thus, the report urges member states to shift the taxation burden from labour to environmental resources and introduce incentives, such as reduced VAT on certain secondary materials. This would apply in areas subject to market failures, or where innovative collection and sorting technologies can be promoted.
There would be no need to increase the burden of taxation on companies, the report says. If cuts in labour taxes were made, it would “increase competitiveness and create a level playing field”.
"Solely focusing on austerity will keep us trapped in an unsustainable debt cycle," said Bas Eickhout, spokesperson for the Greens in the Parliament.
"We should instead move to smart taxation in order to stimulate investment in the green economy. It makes absolute sense to have price signals making scarce factors like resources more expensive to reflect their true cost and abundant factors like labour less expensive," he added.