Closing the loop: state of play of the Circular Economy Action Plan

Monday 25 March 2019

More than 3 years after the introduction of the Circular Economy Action Plan, it is time to take stock of its implementation. On 4 March, the European Union Commission (EC) released a report on the delivering of the Circular Economy Action Plan, and its 54 specific actions. This article reviews most important points of this report as well as future challenges.

Back in December 2015, the EC adopted the Circular Economy Action Plan with the aim of significantly strengthening competitiveness, sustainable growth and job creation inside the European Union. The overall objective was to move from a linear to a circular economy; mainly through legislation on design, production, waste management and recycling.[1]

On March 4th, the EC published a report assessing the implementation of the Action Plan and the forthcoming challenges. As mentioned by Jyrki Katainen - Vice-President of the Commission and Commissioner responsible of jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness – “This report is very encouraging. It shows that Europe is on the right track in creating investment, jobs and new businesses.[2] Indeed, between 2012 and 2016, the total amount of jobs associated to the circular economy have increased by 6%.[3]

In this context, it is interesting to take a closer look at the main achievements of the Circular Economy Action Plan to date:

1.      Circular design and production process

As design is the starting point of all products, it is essential to consider it in order to improve circularity.  Consequently, the EC launched the Ecodesign Working Plan 2016-2019 to ensure that certain products can be reused and recycled.[4] In this effect, choice of materials is crucial to guarantee a multiple-use of products. 

2.      Empowering consumers

Informing citizens about their consumption opportunities is important but it is only relevant if environmental claims of companies are reliable, reproducible and comparable. Therefore, the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) and Organisation Environmental Footprint (OEF) methods were developed by the Commission to facilitate consumers’ choices. More than 300 companies, representing 27 different sectors, and more than 2,000 stakeholders worked on these Life Cycle Assessment methods.

3.      From waste to resources

In July 2018, the revised waste legislative framework entered into force.[5] Through the harmonization of definitions and calculation methods, new ambitious recycling targets, reinforced rules and new obligations on separate collection, minimum requirements for Extended Producer Responsibility, and strengthened waste prevention and waste management measures, the aim was to modernise waste management systems in the Union and to consolidate the European model as one of the most effective in the world.

4.      Focus on a Strategy for Plastics

While efforts for every type of materials is needed to reach a more circular economy, a special emphasis has been made on plastics with the EU Strategy for Plastics, aiming at integrating circular design, use, reuse and recycling activities into plastics value chains. By 2030, the goal is that all plastic packaging placed on the EU market is reusable or recyclable.[6] The strategy enables a multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration, but also binding actions. For example, the Single-Use Plastics Directive, on which the presidency of the Council and the Parliament reached a provisional agreement last December[7], builds on the EU's existing waste legislation but goes further by setting even stricter rules for single-use plastic products which are among the top ten most frequently found items polluting European beaches.

5.      Stakeholder engagement, innovations and investments

The partnership between public and private actors - like economic and social players and civil society - is vital to close the loop of a circular economy. Indeed, EU actions and reflexions are often replicated at national, regional and local level, bringing the circular economy closer to citizens and businesses. To encourage these partnerships, the EC launched the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform bringing together numerous networks and initiatives on the circular economy and gathering and disseminating - in its first year of activity - more than 300 examples of best practices, strategies and reports.[8]

To assist the sector in innovating, over the 2016-2020 period, the Commission has stepped up efforts totalling more than €10 billion in public funding to the transition (research programmes, cohesion policy funds, European Fund for Strategic Investments, etc.).

6.      Challenges

While the above points are quite positive towards the Circular Economy Action Plan, there is still a long way to go before achieving a circular economy. The constellation of actions undertaken under the Action Plan reflects EU’s commitment to being a world leader in circular economy. Yet, some sectorial areas are not covered by the Action Plan and would be interesting to include. It is also necessary to go further in research and innovation; the aim being that circular economy should be the backbone of European industrial strategies.

To this end, interaction between the various actors is essential in order to be able to establish an ambitious guideline at European level on circularity. This then gives Member States, regions and localities a better idea of the measures to be taken to ensure the transition to a circular economy. On 6 and 7 March, the Circular Economy Stakeholder conference took place in Brussels[9]; this event was an ideal opportunity for all the stakeholders involved to continue the discussion on the basis of the positive report published by the EC. Therefore, further actions are expected in the near future in order to achieve full circularity for our economy.










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