Commissioner Vella presents the potential of the circular economy package to EU regions

European Commissioner for the environment Karmenu Vella addressed the Commission for the Environment, Climate Change and Energy (ENVE) of the European Committee of the Regions yesterday in Brussels. On the table were the new circular economy action plan and the revised legislative proposals on waste. Cities and regions' direct involvement is key to succeed in reaching the new targets. Today, on average, only 37% of waste is recycled in Europe.

“Our aim is a quiet revolution. A move away from the unsustainable habits of the past, towards an economy that is more productive, more fulfilling, and more balanced. Better for citizens, better for business and in harmony with nature”, declared Karmenu Vella. Commissioner Vella also affirmed his will to fight programmed obsolescence, a worldwide practice in industrial design to deliberately shorten products’ life to push for consumption.

The high-level debate included Simona Bonafè (S&D/IT) , European Parliament rapporteur on legislative proposals amending the waste directives , Ambassador Wepke Kingma , Deputy Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the EU, Babette Winter (DE/PES) CoR rapporteur on Closing the loop – An EU action plan for the Circular Economy and Domenico Gambacorta (IT/EPP) , CoR rapporteur on Legislative proposals amending the waste directives.

“We welcome the integrated approach the Commission has taken in the new circular economy package. Cities and regions must now lead change on the ground, not only in waste management but also through green public procurement” declared Babette Winter. We nevertheless miss more concrete measures within the package to promote education and raising awareness among citizens” added Ms Winter, state secretary for Europe and Culture of Thuringia.

“The circular economy offers a great potential for economic growth and job creation in our cities and regions. Any proposed measures should however reflect the local and regional diversities across the EU” declared Domenico Gambacorta, President of the Province of Avellino. His adopted draft opinion includes a call to increase the Commission’s proposal of a 65% target for the re-use and recycling of municipal waste by 2030 to 70%.

Karmenu Vellaadded, “Municipalities and regions have a very important role to play in implementing the circular economy package as they are usually responsible for organising separate collection, informing citizens and enforcing rules. With the right policies, you can take big steps in a short period of time. Wallonia increased its recycling by 25% in two years (2006-2008). Slovenia more than doubled its recycling and composting rate in only four years. And Wales has raised its recycling from 15% to 55% over the past ten years”.

Local leaders ask the Commission to set up higher requirements for producers under the Extended Producer Responsibility. Obligations should be based on the full cost of the waste management services required to meet the producer responsibility obligations outlined in the waste directive. Local leaders ask co-legislators to set binding targets for re-use and recycling of specific waste streams such as furniture, fabrics and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). The ENVE commission welcomes the EC proposal to completely ban the landfill of separately collected waste.

CoR calls for municipal waste to include also mixed waste and separately collected waste from other sources that is comparable to household waste in nature and composition but rejects the quantity criteria as proposed by the European Commission package. The CoR highlights that in some Member States waste from small-scale construction and demolition work carried out by individual households is considered municipal waste.

ENVE members propose to further monitor and coordinate activities on resource efficiency, recycling, re-use and waste management following the success of similar actions under the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy initiative.

EU regions’ and cities’ key requests on circular economy were presented in February 2015 in the opinion Towards a circular economy: a zero-waste programme for Europe