14 May 20 | Weekly podcast
European Union dithering shows that business is now taking the circular economy seriously – even if that means taking position on either side of the debate
The original proposals would have established various targets up to 2030, with the objective of stimulating the circular economy in Europe.
There would have been a headline target for 70% of household waste to be recycled by 2030, an 80% recycling target for packaging waste, also by 2030, and a ban on the landfilling of recyclable waste after 2025.
Thwarted pincer movement
The original intention was a pincer movement – that a landfill ban plus high recycling would lead to true development of circular economy business models, rather than simply a switch from landfill to incineration.
For many EU countries, the targets are tough. Many eastern and southern members still landfill most of their waste, but some northern and western countries would also face a challenge, because they have invested heavily in incineration.
New and better…?
The commission says it will put new circular economy proposals on the table by the end of 2015. Environmental groups and many MEPs believe the outcome will be watered-down targets, though the commission says it aims to, if anything, make the circular economy proposals even more circular, by including rules on product design for recyclability alongside waste targets.
…or watered down?
For cynics, this is code for lower targets, subsidies for companies and more placing of the responsibility for waste at the consumer’s door.
Whatever the outcome, there is agreement on one point: going circular could have a major structural impact on the economy. Companies will have to take greater responsibility for the management of waste streams, and for remaking of waste into new raw materials.
This will affect the whole production and consumption cycle, implying new design principles for products and new processes for squeezing value out of waste by, for example, extracting chemicals and finding better ways of managing waste plastics.
It was a recognition that, despite hiccups in Brussels, the circular economy’s time has come.