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New Circular Economy Package ‘less ambitious’ than axed predecessor

Science & Policymaking

New Circular Economy Package ‘less ambitious’ than axed predecessor

Landfill will not be banned after all, according to leaked documents.

[Colin Delaney/Flickr]

The European Commission’s draft waste and incineration laws to replace the package it axed under its drive for “better regulation”, has weaker targets for recycling and landfill than its predecessor.

The 2014 package called for a 70% recycling target for municipal waste for 2030, and a total ban on landfill for all recoverable and reusable waste.

But leaked documents obtained by EurActiv ahead of the EU’s executive planned launch of the new package next week, only call for a 65% recycling goal, and will allow a 10% landfill quota.

Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans promised the European Parliament that the new package would be “more ambitious” than the old one after ditching it in December last year.

>>Read: Circular Economy Package to be ditched and re-tabled

Also in the latest leak;

  • Estonia, Greece, Croatia, Latvia, Malta, Romania and Slovakia are given the option of applying for a five-year extension to meet their recycling targets;
  • Language calling for member states to ensure separate collection of biowaste by 2025 has been watered down. The new package gives no deadline and says the separate collection should be done if it is “technically, economically and environmentally feasible”;
  • The old package demanded a reduction at least 30% of food waste between 2017 and 2025. There is no target in the new rules, just a requirement to monitor and assess waste prevention measures.

Sirpa Pietikäinen, is a Finnish member of the European People’s Party, the largest group in the Parliament. She wrote a report calling for a total landfill ban. “I am struggling to find what is more ambitious in the new package,” she told EurActiv.

“Give me the chance to prove you wrong,” Timmermans asked Green MEPs, after pressing ahead with the decision to drop the package in the face of European Parliament opposition and EU environment ministers.

Bas Eickhout, a Dutch Green MEP, said, “It seems the targets are being lowered and the ambition is being lowered. I really hope that the legislative proposal will be beefed up because otherwise we can only conclude it is weaker and less ambitious –and that is a serious blow to the promise that Timmermans gave us.”

>>Read: Let me prove you wrong on circular economy, Timmermans tells Greens

>>Read: Waste laws will be binned despite protests

As a draft, the new package can be changed by the executive ahead of its 2 December launch. EurActiv understands that discussions over the rules are ongoing.

Pietikäinen said, “I think it will be better to have more ambitious targets. I don’t know what the final approach on the issue will be but I think that the landfill ban and recycling targets are important buffers to incineration.”

Incineration of waste for energy should be a last resort and only used when the materials could not be re-used in any other way, she said.

Full circle

The orginal Circular Economy Package was intended to increase recycling levels and tighten rules on incineration and landfill. It consists of six bills on waste, packaging, landfill, end of life vehicles, batteries and accumulators, and waste electronic equipment. The Barroso Commission, which said it would create €600 billion net savings, two million jobs and deliver 1% GDP growth. 

Policymakers view the shift to an economy where as little as possible is wasted as vital in a world with finite resources and a booming population.

Timmermans said as he dropped the package that it was not ambitious enough. He stressed the re-submitted package would be wider in scope. “The waste package was the not the full circle of the circular economy,” he said.

Timmermans explained that a full circle would ensure that the waste would not be created in the first place. This can be achieved by legislating to encourage Eco-design, the use of materials that are create less waste and are easy to recycle. 

Leaked documents show that the new package package will include fresh legislation on waste, fertilisers, and water reuse, “strong commitments” on Eco-design, strategies for handling plastics and chemicals, and “major” funding for innovation.

They revealed the bundle of rules and initiatives will include “targeted action” in food, construction, industrial and mining waste, and public procurement.

>>Read: New Circular Economy Package takes shape

“What we see now is an action plan which is referring to a lot of the topics,” said Eickhout, “but it remains an action plan with a lot of dates and no solid proposals – what happens to the legislative proposal?”

“The Commission promised to come back with something more ambitious this year around but, on close inspection of this latest leak, the main waste targets have been weakened,” said the European Environmental Bureau, “This makes a mockery of the Commission’s ‘better regulation’ agenda.”

Better regulation

Better regulation is the Commission’s strategy to cut red tape but it has been dogged by accusation it masks a pro-business agenda that drives down environmental standards.

EurActiv exclusively revealed that lobby organisation BusinessEurope had written to Timmermans, asking for the Circular Economy package to be killed off, before the decision to wield the axe was taken.

>>Read: Gender equality and environment laws on business lobby hit list

We also revealed that Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella had written to Timmermans, advising he kept the old package. 

>>Read: Vella told Timmermans not to axe Circular Economy Package

The European Commission has a policy of never commenting on leaks. 


The Circular Economy Package was intended to increase recycling levels and tighten rules on incineration and landfill.

It consists of six bills on waste, packaging, landfill, end of life vehicles, batteries and accumulators, and waste electronic equipment.

European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans was given a mandate from President Jean-Claude Juncker to cut red tape and deliver “better regulation”. Better regulation is an EU reform that the UK government has demanded. 

He told MEPs in December that he would withdrawing and re-tabling the package, to make it "more ambitious". 

>>Full coverage on: Circular Economy

>>Full coverage on: Better Regulation


  • 2 December: Expected launch of new Circular economy package

Further Reading

European Commission