Commission called to task on circular economy plan

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The European Parliament’s Environment Committee has called on the EU executive to table a new, ambitious proposal on the circular economy, following the controversial withdrawal of a draft package by the European Commission last year.

In a resolution adopted on Wednesday (17 June) by a broad cross-party majority, MEPs called on the Commission to adopt an ambitious proposal on the circular economy by the end of the year.

Among key measures backed by MEPs was a call to reintroduce a legally binding target to cut waste by 30% by 2025 – including food waste. Those measures had been scrapped by the Commission when it withdrew its circular economy package last year in a drive for leaner law-making, causing uproar among environmentalists.

>> Read: Waste laws will be binned, despite protests

The report, drafted by Finnish MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen, was adopted by 56 votes to 5, with 5 abstentions.

“Today’s vote sends a strong signal to the Juncker Commission,” said Claude Turmes, a Green MEP from Luxembourg who sits on the Parliament’s Environment Committee.

In their resolution, MEPs called on the Commission to promote a lifecycle approach to product policy, aimed at making products more recyclable, repairable and longer-lasting. New eco-design rules should be submitted by the end of 2016, and include all product groups, the MEPs said.

The report also demands tangible measures to combat planned obsolescence of products and to improve consumer protection against defects. This should include phasing out toxic chemicals from manufacturing and encouraging the development of non-polluting production methods.

>> Read: Academics probe built-in obsolescence of fridges, notebooks

It remains to be seen whether the Parliament’s resolve on the circular economy will stand the test of a plenary vote, however.

When lawmakers voted on the Commission’s 2015 workplan earlier this year, MEPs failed to pass a resolution against the Commission’s ditching of green legislation.

>> Read : Parliament divisions stop joint resolution to save environmental laws

PlasticsEurope, an industry group, lauded MEPs for pushing an EU-wide ban on landfill covering all recyclable and recoverable waste.

“This is a step closer towards Zero Plastics to landfill by 2025,” said Karl-H. Foerster, Executive Director of PlasticsEurope.

Foerster dismissed concerns that a landfill restriction would promote incineration only, saying those were not supported by facts. “Between 2006 and 2012, the amount of post-consumer plastic waste going to landfills was reduced by 26% and, as a result, plastics recycling rose by as much as 40% and energy recovery increased by 27%,” he argued.

However, Foerster rejected the MEP’s push to extend eco-design rules to all product ranges, saying this would not work for plastics. "Modern food packaging, for example, often consists of a multi-layer film made out of different plastics, making it hard to recycle […]. If such packaging were not available, food producers would have to use far more material in order to provide the high level of protection required, thereby increasing its environmental footprint,” Foerster claimed.

Kathleen Van Brempt, a Belgian MEP from the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group, said the current waste management hierarchy – which promotes prevention, reuse and recycling over incineration and landfill – had to be completed with a resource management hierarchy based on 1) prevention, 2) reuse, 3) secondary raw materials, 4) renewable primary raw materials and 5) non-renewable primary raw materials.

Matthias Groote, S&D spokesperson on the environment, said:

"The European Commission should introduce binding targets for the reduction of municipal and industrial waste by 2025. Moreover, separate collection systems for paper, metal, plastic, glass and compost waste should be introduced wherever they are not already present.”

"Every year more than 56 million tonnes of plastic are used in the EU and only 26% of plastic waste is recycled. The rest is burned, ends up on landfills or in the ocean. As social democrats we pushed for a mandatory target of a 50% reduction in marine pollution by 2025, and we will keep insisting that this is compulsory.

The European Commission’s decision to ditch the Circular Economy package of waste, recycling and incineration laws, was confirmed in January, despite the objections of the EU Parliament and national environment ministers.

Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans was given a mandate to cut red tape and deliver “better regulation”.

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 electronic equipment waste.

>> Read: EU tables ‘circular economy’ package with zero-landfill goal

Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans told MEPs in December that the package would be re-tabled in 2015 and be “more ambitious” than the previous one.

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

  • 6-9 July 2015: Parliament to vote on the report at plenary session in Strasbourg
  • By end 2015: Commission to table new circular economy package

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