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#CircularEconomy - 'With a new impetus for sustainable development'

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The COVID-19 crisis has created the conditions for circular products and services to become the norm in Europe, says the EESC. In a recent opinion on the new EU Circular Economy Action Plan, the EESC urges lawmakers to ensure the circular economy finds a place and resources in the overall "greenprint" for Europe's recovery.

"The COVID-19 crisis can be a great opportunity to start up again with new impetus for sustainable development," said Antonello Pezzini, rapporteur for the EESC opinion on the new EU Circular Economy Action Plan, adopted at the July plenary session.

The vision of circular products and services becoming the norm, which was behind the plan put forward by the European Commission back in March as COVID-19 was looming, is becoming more tangible as the crisis unfolds. "With the new Action Plan, the circular economy can really become a pillar of the Green New Deal," said the rapporteur.

The Action Plan takes in much of the advice already pioneered by the EESC in its 2016 opinion on the first Circular Economy Package, particularly in areas such as eco-design, reparability, premature obsolescence and secondary raw materials, and as such is very welcome. However, broader measures will also be needed, in the EESC's view.

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The soft side of the Circular Economy

A real circular economy culture needs to be nourished, argues the EESC. Taxation should shift from labour to resources and imported products that flout circular economy principles. Wealth should be measured through criteria which go beyond GDP.

The current systems used to calculate GDP (based on either expenditure, production or income) are an expression of the old "take-make-use-dispose" mentality. The EESC suggests using new elements other than economic performance, such as:

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  • Creating solidarity-based systems for an inclusive society;
  • living within the limits of our planet, and;
  • a fair distribution of resources.

Softer aspects such as education will be key to fostering the new mindset and encouraging people to change their daily habits and behaviour, in the EESC's view.

Advertising should also be encouraged to move away from consumerism and present long-lasting, reusable goods as being of value to the consumer and society, urges the EESC.

The future of the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform

The European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, which was set up jointly by the EESC and the previous European Commission, could support many of the actions outlined in the new Action Plan.

The Platform is an inter-institutional initiative, launched by the EESC and the Commission in 2017. This three-year period has seen three well-attended joint annual conferences, a Coordination Group that has delivered 50 initiatives, and a website that has received over 230 000 visitors, brought together over 350 Good Practices, 33 Strategies and a Knowledge Hub with more than 200 publications. The Platform has an active presence on social media with over 2 400 Twitter followers, and has recently established a presence on LinkedIn.

The Platform, which is intended to encourage the exchange of circular economy knowledge and know-how, should therefore continue under the new Plan and become the go-to resource for circular economy players in Europe, urges the EESC. It has, in fact, just published a Call for Expression of Interest for a Coordination Group for the new mandate starting in Autumn 2020.

"The Circular Economy Platform has been at the forefront of circular economy implementation and policy design across the EU. It has taken on a very strong leadership role in this area" says opinion co-rapporteur Cillian Lohan. "We are confident that it will continue to serve a very useful purpose in the future".

Background

The new Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) proposed by the European Commission in March 2020 sets out a series of new initiatives covering the entire cycle of product design and lifespan to enable both individuals and businesses to play a role in the circular economy.

The plan includes some 35 measures over a three-year period (mid-2020 to mid-2023) to:

  • Make sustainable products the norm in the EU;
  • empower consumers with access to reliable information and a true "right to repair", and;
  • focus on the sectors that use the most resources and where the potential for circularity is high, such as electronics and ICT, batteries and vehicles, packaging, plastics, textiles, construction and buildings, waste.

    Currently, only 8.6% of global activities operate on circular principles.

According the World Economic Forum, in 2019, over 92 billion tonnes of materials were extracted and processed, contributing to about half of global CO2 emissions. UNDP says resource extraction and processing accounts for more than 90% of global biodiversity loss.

Businesses and consumers are increasingly recognizing the damage caused by linear economic models, which rely heavily on resource consumption and involve the use of premature obsolescence techniques, encouraging people to constantly buy new products.

VIDEO: Europe at work

The European Economic and Social Committee is an institutional consultative body established by the 1957 Treaty of Rome. It represents the various economic and social components of organized civil society. Its consultative role enables its members, and hence the organisations they represent, to participate in the EU decision-making process.

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Circular economy

Circular economy: Commission extends EU eco-label to all cosmetic and animal care products

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The Commission has adopted the new EU Ecolabel criteria for cosmetics and animal care products, giving consumers across the EU the benefit of reliable proof of brands that are truly green. The EU Ecolabel criteria reduce the environmental impact of products on water, soil and biodiversity, thus contributing to a clean and circular economy and an environment free of toxic substances. The EU Eco-label is a reliable, third-party verified label of environmental excellence that takes into account the environmental impact of a product throughout its life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials upon final elimination.

Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “The most environmentally friendly cosmetics and pet products can now be awarded the EU Ecolabel, which increases all the more so because of the success of this label since 1992. I encourage companies to claim the EU eco-label and to benefit from its indisputable reputation."

The EU Ecolabel helps direct relevant consumers towards reliable and certified green products and supports the transition to a clean and circular economy. The updated EU Ecolabel criteria will now apply to all cosmetic products, as defined in the EU Cosmetic Products Regulation. Previously, the requirements for the award of the EU Ecolabel for cosmetics covered a limited range of so-called 'rinse-off' products, such as shower gels, shampoos and conditioners.

The updated rules include "leave-in" cosmetics, such as creams, oils, skin care lotions, deodorants and antiperspirants, sunscreens, as well as hair and makeup products. In the animal care sector, an EU eco-label can now be awarded to rinse-off products. The EU eco-label supports the ecological transition and the ambition of zero pollution, while giving better alternatives to consumers who are looking for healthy and sustainable options.

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How the EU wants to achieve a circular economy by 2050

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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, Society.

The current crisis highlighted weaknesses in resource and value chains, hitting SMEs and industry. A circular economy will cut CO2-emissions, whilst stimulating economic growth and creating job opportunities.

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.

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The Parliament called for tighter recycling rules and binding 2030 targets for materials use and consumption in a resolution adopted on 9 February 2021.

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.

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Making crucial sectors circular

Circularity and sustainability must be incorporated in all stages of a value chain to achieve a fully circular economy: from design to production and all the way to the consumer. The Commission action plan sets down seven key areas essential to achieving a circular economy: plastics; textiles; e-waste; food, water and nutrients; packaging; batteries and vehicles; buildings and construction.

Plastics

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

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.

Discover how the textile production and waste affects the environment.

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

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.

Find out about landfilling and recycling statistics in the EU.

Find out more 

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Parliament aims for carbon-neutral, sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy

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MEPs call for binding 2030 targets for materials use and consumption footprint ©AdobeStock_Fotoschlick  

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.

Context

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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.

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