What is the circular economy (in a nutshell)?
The shift to a circular economy has become one of the most important objectives of EU environmental and economic policy in recent years. In the linear economy model, which is still followed by most economic processes, products are produced from natural resources, i.e. primary raw materials, and become waste after use. The material and energy contained in them are lost forever, leave the system, which is constantly decreasing the quantity of non-renewable natural resources.
In contrast, in the circular economy model, all non-renewable materials circulate in a closed cycle1. A very important part of the model is ecodesign, whereby products are designed, keeping in mind the further stages of their life cycle, to be more durable, repairable, reusable, and recyclable. There is also a significant role for the population in making the circular economy a reality because they are the ones who are able to make the best possible use of products by purchasing durable items, making them repaired, and reusing them so that they become waste as late as possible. They are also primarily the ones who enable recycling by the separate collection of waste. In industry, commerce, services, and public institutions material efficiency and separate collection of the waste generated are as much important as in households. Ideally, in a circular economy nearly the total amount of the waste generated is recycled, being returned as secondary raw material into production, and primary raw materials, whether renewable or not, will only be used if no secondary raw materials are available1. The circular economy model is, in fact, not a novelty, but a kind of a return to the order of nature, since in nature almost every substance (chemical element) is involved in circular processes and there is no waste: the output of each process is the input of another process.
Background: The first, withdrawn package
In the summer of 2014, the European Commission issued a Communication entitled "Towards a circular economy: A zero waste programme for Europe" and, to achieve the goals outlined in the Communication, a proposal to amend the most important EU waste management legislation. In the same year, however, the proposal was withdrawn by the new European Commission, set up after the elections to the European Parliament, with the intention of introducing a new, more comprehensive proposal in 2015, focusing not only on the waste stage of the product life cycle but on the overall life cycle. Since the publication of the first package, HOSZ has continuously followed the development of European legislation related to the circular economy and, as a member of the European recycling industry associations and through our professional relations with the competent Hungarian ministries, we have been actively involved in preparing those laws via commenting on the draft legislation.
The Circular Economy Package: The action plan and the amendments to the key EU waste management Directives
As promised, towards the end of 2015, the European Commission presented its new Circular Economy Package. The package consisted of two main parts: a new Communication entitled "Closing the loop - An EU action plan for the Circular Economy " and the proposals to amend the waste management Directives.
In the action plan the Commission summarized what measures it intends to take, including what legislation it will propose and what financing it intends to make available from EU funding programmes in order to foster the move towards a circular economy. The measures outlined do not only cover the waste stage of the product life cycle but the entire life cycle. The annex to the Communication lists the tasks assigned to each stage of the product life cycle, indicating deadlines as well.
The other part of the package was actually the launching of the first action of the action plan: the Commission presented its proposal to amend the most important EU waste management legislation – the Waste Framework Directive, and the Directives on landfills, packaging waste, end-of-life vehicles, electrical and electronic waste, and waste batteries and accumulators. Since then, those proposals have been discussed by the EU Member States in the European Parliament and the Council and the result of the procedure was the adoption of a legislative package amending the six EU Directives. The Directives were published in the Official Journal of the EU on 14 June 2018 and have to be transposed by Member States into their national legislation by 5 July 2020.
The legislative package is extremely important because it sets the long term path and numerical targets for European waste management. In the following, we highlight only a few key points of the many new requirements of the Directives. The legislative package reinforces the waste hierarchy, i.e. the priority order of waste-related activities and waste management operations, the application of which has to be incentivized by Member States by legal and economic measures. According to that, the most important is prevention, i.e. the reduction of the quantity and the hazardousness of the waste generated. The next best solution is preparing waste products for re-use, followed in the waste hierarchy by recycling. Next, other recovery, e.g. energy recovery. According to the waste hierarchy, only those wastes should be disposed of by landfilling or incineration for which treatment options at higher levels of the hierarchy are not possible.
The legislative package imposes new mandatory targets on Member States to increase the proportion of recycling and, in parallel, to reduce the rate of landfilling. The rate of preparing for re-use and recycling of municipal waste has gradually to be increased to 65% by 2035 and the rate of recycling of packaging waste to 70% by 2030. The legislative package also sets earlier targets to be achieved by 2025 and 2030, and specifies recycling targets for the various materials within packaging waste. The rate of landfilling of municipal waste has to be reduced to 10% by 2035. In the case of paper, metals, plastics, and glass, Member States have had to operate separate waste collection systems since 2015. According to the new requirements, separate collection has to be extended to bio-waste by the beginning of 2024, and to waste textiles and hazardous household waste by the beginning of 2025. By new rules on extended producer responsibility systems, the legislative package clarifies how producers have to take responsibility for the treatment of waste arising from their products.
The amended (consolidated) versions of the Directives:
Further on towards a circular economy: New measures
Following the amendment of the most important EU waste management Directives, the European Commission began to prepare the related implementing acts and to take forward the other measures outlined in the action plan, for example, the Commission published the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy and its proposal on a Directive on single use plastics, and started to assess the options to address the interface between chemical, product and waste legislation. On the circular economy subsection of our website, we would like to inform you about the progress of the former initiatives and other news concerning the circular economy. You can find the related information and updates in the News menu.