Written by Clare Ferguson with Sophia Stone.
In its resolution on the new circular economy action plan (CEAP) adopted in February 2021, the European Parliament reiterated its support to the move away from a traditional economic ‘take-make-consume-throw away’ pattern to a more circular economy. The Parliament made over 130 policy recommendations for more circularity. It called, among other things, on the Commission to propose science-based binding EU targets for reducing the use of primary raw materials and environmental impacts. It also demanded binding footprint targets for the whole product lifecycle for each product category placed on the EU market, and product-specific and/or sector-specific binding targets for recycled content.
A circular economy minimises waste through reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products. The EU’s circular economy action plan is a step towards reaching the European Union’s 2050 climate neutrality target through measures to normalise sustainable products in the EU, to empower consumers, to cut waste and increase circularity. The plan focuses on sectors that have a big circularity potential, such as electronics, packaging, plastics, textiles and buildings. The European Commission presented the overall plan in March 2020. While Parliament welcomed the Commission’s proposal as a contribution to the European Green Deal, it has asked the Commission to introduce binding EU targets for 2030 to reduce the EU’s consumption footprint. The Parliament also stressed the importance of ensuring products and materials on the EU market are durable, safe and non-toxic. Furthermore, the Parliament requested the Commission to propose waste targets to minimise waste output. Under the new CEAP, the European Commission is expected to propose new measures on 30 November 2022 to achieve the CEAP aims.
One of these new initiatives under the plan is a revision of the Packaging and Waste Directive. This Directive sets out the EU’s rules on managing packaging and packaging waste. Measured by weight, packaging accounts for over 3 % of all waste generated in the EU and is made up of: paper and cardboard (41 %); plastic (19 %); glass (19 %); wood (16 %); and metal (5 %). This waste can be reduced by transforming it into a resource through waste prevention, reuse, recyclability, compostable packaging and other measures. Thanks to a new law – adopted by Parliament and Council very recently – by the end of 2024, all mobile phones, tables and cameras sold in the EU will be equipped with a USB Type‑C charging port, cutting associated waste by up to 13 000 tonnes a year.
Furthermore, many products, such as plastics and chemicals, are still produced using virgin fossil-based carbon resources. In view of the EU’s ambition to reach climate neutrality by 2050, such fossil-based materials could be replaced with sustainably sourced bio-based materials, or by optimising the circular economy solution in which carbon rich products are recycled and remain stored.
Over the past few decades, the amount of clothes bought per person in the EU has increased by 40 %, with fast fashion and falling prices encouraging consumption. However, clothing has the fourth highest impact on the environment of all EU consumption categories. The production process and environmental footprint is large, due to the amount of water, chemicals, energy and micro plastics involved. Only 1 % of all clothes handed in for recycling are actually recycled into new clothes. The Commission has proposed several ways to counter the environmental impact, such as by designing clothes in a way that makes reuse and recycling easier – also known as circular fashion – convincing consumers to buy fewer clothes and incentivising consumers to opt for more sustainable options.
The first part of CEAP includes a proposed ecodesign directive, which sets out product-specific requirements to increase the lifetime and energy efficiency of the things we buy, making them more durable, repairable and reusable. In response, the Parliament adopted two resolutions in 2020 and 2021, calling on the Commission to establish a consumer’s ‘right to repair‘: Repair during the legal guarantee, the right to repair after the legal guarantee has expired, and the right for consumers to repair products themselves.
Further reading and listening
See EPRS legislative train carriages for each of the circular economy files, for instance:
- Revision of Directive 94/62/EC on Packaging and Packaging Waste
- Ecodesign for a circular economy
- Substantiating green claims
- New circular economy action plan
- Right to Repair podcast
- Sustainable carbon cycles: Promoting removal, storage and recycling podcast
- Circular economy infographic
- New circular economy action plan
- Sustainable carbon cycles: Promoting removal, storage and recycling
- A common charger for electronic devices: Revision of the Radio Equipment Directive
- Textiles and the environment
- Setting ecodesign requirements for sustainable products
- Right to repair