Parliament adopted comprehensive policy recommendations to achieve a carbon-neutral, sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy by 2050 at the latest. The report, adopted today (10 February) with 574 votes in favour, 22 against and 95 abstentions, is a response to the Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan. Binding 2030 targets are needed for materials use and our consumption footprint, covering the whole lifecycle of each product category placed on the EU market, MEPs stress. They also call on the Commission to propose product-specific and/or sector-specific binding targets for recycled content.
Parliament urges the Commission to put forward new legislation in 2021, broadening the scope of the Ecodesign Directive to include non-energy-related products. This should set product-specific standards, so that products placed on the EU market perform well, are durable, reusable, can be easily repaired, are not toxic, can be upgraded and recycled, contain recycled content, and are resource- and energy-efficient. Other key recommendations are detailed here.
Rapporteur Jan Huitema (Renew Europe, NL) said: “The transition to a circular economy is an economic opportunity for Europe that we should embrace. Europe is not a resource-rich continent, but we have the skills, the expertise and the ability to innovate and develop the technologies needed to close loops and build a waste-free society. This will create jobs and economic growth and bring us closer to reaching our climate goals: It’s a win-win.” Watch video statement.
In the plenary debate, MEPs also emphasised that achieving the Green Deal objectives will only be possible if the EU switches to a circular economy model, and that this change will create new jobs and business opportunities. Existing legislation on waste must be implemented more thoroughly, and further measures are needed for key sectors and products, such as textiles, plastics, packaging and electronics, MEPs added. Watch the full recording of the debate here.
In March 2020, the Commission adopted a new “Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe”. A debate in the Environment Committee took place in October 2020, and the report was adopted on 27 January 2021.
Up to 80% of the environmental impact of products is determined at the design phase. The global consumption of materials is expected to double in the next forty years, while the amount of waste generated every year is projected to increase by 70% by 2050. Half of total greenhouse gas emissions, and more than 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress, come from extracting and processing resources.
How the EU wants to achieve a circular economy by 2050
Find out about the EU’s circular economy action plan and what additional measures MEPs want to reduce waste and make products more sustainable. If we keep on exploiting resources as we do now, by 2050 we would need the resources of three Earths. Finite resources and climate issues require moving from a ‘take-make-dispose’ society to a carbon-neutral, environmentally sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy by 2050.
Read more about the definition and benefits of the circular economy.
The EU circular economy action plan
In line with EU’s 2050 climate neutrality goal under the Green Deal, the European Commission proposed a new Circular Economy Action Plan in March 2020, focusing on waste prevention and management and aimed at boosting growth, competitiveness and EU global leadership in the field.
On 27 January, Parliament's environment committee backed the plan and called for binding 2030 targets for materials use and consumption. MEPs will vote on the report during the February plenary session.
Moving to sustainable products
To achieve an EU market of sustainable, climate-neutral and resource-efficient products, the Commission proposes extending the Ecodesign Directive to non-energy-related products. MEPs want the new rules to be in place in 2021.
MEPs also back initiatives to fight planned obsolescence, improve the durability and reparability of products and to strengthen consumer rights with the right to repair. They insist consumers have the right to be properly informed about the environmental impact of the products and services they buy and asked the Commission to make proposals to fight so-called greenwashing, when companies present themselves as being more environmentally-friendly than they really are.
Making crucial sectors circular
MEPs back the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, which would phase out the use of microplastics.
Read more about the EU strategy to reduce plastic waste.
Textiles use a lot of raw materials and water, with less than 1% recycled. MEPs want new measures against microfiber loss and stricter standards on water use.
Electronics and ICT
Electronic and electrical waste, or e-waste, is the fastest growing waste stream in the EU and less than 40% is recycled. MEPs want the EU to promote longer product life through reusability and reparability.
Learn some E-waste facts and figures.
Food, water and nutrients
An estimated 20% of food is lost or wasted in the EU. MEPs urge the halving of food waste by 2030 under the Farm to Fork Strategy.
Packaging waste in Europe reached a record high in 2017. New rules aim to ensure that all packaging on the EU market is economically reusable or recyclable by 2030.
Batteries and vehicles
MEPs are looking at proposals requiring the production and materials of all batteries on the EU market to have a low carbon footprint and respect human rights, social and ecological standards.
Construction and buildings
Construction accounts for more than 35% of total EU waste. MEPs want to increase the lifespan of buildings, set reduction targets for the carbon footprint of materials and establish minimum requirements on resource and energy efficiency.
Waste management and shipment
The EU generates more than 2.5 billion tonnes of waste a year, mainly from households. MEPs urge EU countries to increase high-quality recycling, move away from landfilling and minimise incineration.
The impact of textile production and waste on the environment
Clothes, footwear and household textiles are responsible for water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and landfill. Find out more in the infographic. Fast fashion - the constant provision of new styles at very low prices - has led to a big increase in the quantity of clothes produced and thrown away.
In March 2020, the European Commission adopted a new circular economy action plan, which includes an EU strategy for textiles, which aims to stimulate innovation and boost reuse within the sector. Parliament is set to vote on an own-initiative report on the circular economy action plan in early 2021.
It takes a lot of water to produce textile, plus land to grow cotton and other fibres. It is estimated that the global textile and clothing industry used 79 billion cubic metres of water in 2015, while the needs of the EU's whole economy amounted to 266 billion cubic metres in 2017. To make a single cotton t-shirt, 2,700 litres of fresh water are required according to estimates, enough to meet one person’s drinking needs for 2.5 years.
Textile production is estimated to be responsible for about 20% of global clean water pollution from dyeing and finishing products.
Washing synthetics releases an estimated 0.5 million tonnes of microfibres into the ocean a year.
Laundering synthetic clothes accounts for 35% of primary microplastics released into the environment. A single laundry load of polyester clothes can discharge 700,000 microplastic fibres that can end up in the food chain.
Greenhouse gas emissions
It is estimated that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions – more than international flights and maritime shipping combined.
According to the European Environment Agency, textile purchases in the EU in 2017 generated about 654 kg of CO2 emissions per person.
Textile waste in landfills
The way people get rid of unwanted clothes has also changed, with items being thrown away rather than donated.
Since 1996, the amount of clothes bought in the EU per person has increased by 40% following a sharp fall in prices, which has reduced the life span of clothing. Europeans use nearly 26 kilos of textiles and discard about 11 kilos of them every year. Used clothes can be exported outside the EU, but are mostly (87%) incinerated or landfilled.
Globally less than 1% of clothes are recycled as clothing, partly due to inadequate technology.
Tackling textile waste in the EU
The new strategy aims to address fast fashion and provide guidelines to achieve high levels of separate collection of textile waste.
Under the waste directive approved by the Parliament in 2018, EU countries will be obliged to collect textiles separately by 2025. The new Commission strategy also includes measures to support circular material and production processes, tackle the presence of hazardous chemicals and help consumers to choose sustainable textiles.
The EU has an EU Ecolabel that producers respecting ecological criteria can apply to items, ensuring a limited use of harmful substances and reduced water and air pollution.
The EU has also introduced some measures to mitigate the impact of textile waste on the environment. Horizon 2020 funds RESYNTEX, a project using chemical recycling, which could provide a circular economy business model for the textile industry.
A more sustainable model of textile production also has the potential to boost the economy. "Europe finds itself in an unprecedented health and economic crisis, revealing the fragility of our global supply chains," said lead MEP Huitema. "Stimulating new innovative business models will in turn create new economic growth and the job opportunities Europe will need to recover."
More about waste in the EU
E-waste in the EU: Facts and figures
E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the EU and less than 40% is recycled. Electronic devices and electrical equipment define modern life. From washing machines and vacuum cleaners to smartphones and computers, it is hard to imagine life without them. But the waste they generate has become an obstacle to EU efforts to reduce its ecological footprint. Read more to find out how the EU is tackling e-waste in its move towards a more circular economy.
Electronic and electrical waste, or e-waste, covers a variety of different products that are thrown away after use.
Large household appliances, such as washing machines and electric stoves, are the most collected, making up more than half of all collected e-waste.
This is followed by IT and telecommunications equipment (laptops, printers), consumer equipment and photovoltaic panels (video cameras, fluorescent lamps) and small household appliances (vacuum cleaners, toasters).
All other categories, such as electrical tools and medical devices, together make up just 7.2% of the collected e-waste.
E-waste recycling rate in the EU
Less than 40% of all e-waste in the EU is recycled, the rest is unsorted. Recycling practices vary among EU countries. In 2017, Croatia recycled 81% of all electronic and electrical waste, while in Malta, the figure was 21%.
Why do we need to recycle electronic and electrical waste?
Discarded electronic and electrical equipment contains potentially harmful materials that pollute the environment and increase the risks for people involved in recycling e-waste. To counter this problem, the EU has passed legislation to prevent the use of certain chemicals, like lead.
Many rare minerals that are needed in modern technology come from countries that do not respect human rights. To avoid inadvertently supporting armed conflict and human rights abuses, MEPs have adopted rules requiring European importers of rare earth minerals to carry out background checks on their suppliers.
What is the EU doing do reduce e-waste?
In March 2020, the European Commission presented a new circular economy action plan that has as one of its priorities the reduction of electronic and electrical waste. The proposal specifically outlines immediate goals like creating the “right to repair” and improving reusability in general, the introduction of a common charger and establishing a rewards system to encourage recycling electronics.
The Parliament is set to vote on an own-initiative report on the circular economy action plan in February 2021.
Dutch Renew Europe member Jan Huitema, the lead MEP on this issue, said it was important to approach the Commission’s action plan “holistically”: “Circularity principles need to be implemented throughout all stages of a value chain to make the circular economy a success.”
He said particular focus should be given to the e-waste sector, as recycling is lagging behind production. “In 2017, the world generated 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste and only 20% was recycled properly.”
Huitema also says the action plan could help with the economic recovery. “Stimulating new innovative business models will in turn create the new economic growth and job opportunities Europe will need to recover.
Read more about the circular economy and waste
- Facts and figures on waste management in the EU
- The circular economy package: new EU targets for recycling
- The EU strategy to reduce plastic pollution
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