EU lawmakers call for targets to reduce raw material use

Without the circular economy, the EU won't meet its climate targets, said Jan Huitema, rapporteur for the report [Alexis Haulot / EP]

Lawmakers in the European Parliament’s environment committee will call for legally-binding targets to reduce raw material use in a report due to be voted on this week.

The vote on Tuesday (26 January) will shape the Parliament’s response to the European Commission’s circular economy action plan, presented in March last year.

Tighter waste and recycling laws are central to the Commission’s plan, with new targets due to be presented this year as part of a broader revision of EU waste rules.

In their report, MEPs call on the European Commission to “propose science-based binding EU mid-term and long-term targets for the reduction in the use of primary raw materials” in manufacturing industries.

To achieve this, they call for “a back-casting approach to ensure that policy objectives are on a credible path to achieve a carbon-neutral” and “fully circular economy within planetary boundaries by 2050 at the latest”.

Half of total greenhouse gas emissions come from resource extraction and processing, the Commission said as it presented its plan last year, warning that Europe was consuming materials “as if we had three” planets to live from.

Environmental groups applauded the move. “It remediates a shortfall of the EU Commission plan which did not integrate any headline driver for action on resources use as exist for climate and energy,” said Stéphane Arditi, director at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a network of green NGOs.

The call is one of several in the environment committee’s report on the Commission’s circular economy action plan, which also includes binding targets on waste reduction and objectives to cap the generation of residual waste.

Waste prevention should be the first priority in product and waste policy, the report says, calling on the EU and its member states to boost reuse and increase high-quality recycling.

“It’s been a long and painful journey, but overall, the report is pretty good in many aspects,” said Janek Vahk from Zero Waste Europe, an NGO.

“Wording on the residual waste target is really important in order to move away from only talking about limiting landfill as the real problem is the residual waste generation – and that it currently is moved from landfills to incinerator,” said Vahk.

The Commission’s circular economy plan is all about reducing landfill and producing goods that are reparable and have longer lifespans.

“Without a circular economy, the European Union will not be as competitive as we are now in the future,” said Jan Huitema, the rapporteur of the draft, who spoke at an environment committee meeting in October 2020.

“If we don’t have a circular economy, we will not reach the targets that were presented in the European Green Deal,” he added.

EU unveils circular economy plan 2.0, drawing mixed reactions

The European Commission unveiled its new circular economy action plan on Wednesday (11 March), confirming the EU’s intention of halving municipal waste by 2030, and suggesting to offer consumers a new “right to repair” for computers and smartphones.

Lawmakers in the environment committee are due to vote on amendments to the report on Tuesday (26 January) before voting on the whole report on Wednesday (27 January).

The draft calls for Europe to take action without delay on building a circular economy and to include waste prevention and recycling into into recovery plans that will be adopted this year to help countries recover from the COVID crisis.

Other controversial topics in the report include waste incineration. An earlier version of the Parliament’s report stressed the role of incineration without considering how burning residual waste may undermine recycling, activists said.

The new wording is more in line with the EU waste hierarchy, which priorities reuse and recycling over incineration.

On chemical recycling, Zero Waste Europe welcomes that the circular economy action plan only allows this process if it reduces the overall environmental footprint in relation to other technologies.

However, Vahk criticised it for leaving a vague distinction between chemical recycling and recovery, saying waste streams risk being diverted from high-quality recycling to feedstocks for petrochemicals.

Chemical recycling is considered a promising way of removing legacy chemicals – substances now banned in the EU – from plastics, so they can be recycled, but there are concerns about the amount of energy going into the process.

Click here to download the final version of the report that will be voted on Tuesday. 

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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