Towards a circular economy: a zero waste programme for Europe


The recently published European Commission Communication is dedicated to promoting the so-called “circular economy”. This is the term used today to mean the approach of addressing the culture of reuse and recycling of already existing materials and products, rather than the linear model of “take-make-consume and dispose” which was much more widespread in years gone by and which is based on the assumption that resources are abundant, always available and cheap.

by P. Cappellini

Pursuit of the “circular economy” is also the central aspect of the agenda relating to efficiency in the use of resources, as defined within the European strategy 2020 for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Developing a “circular economy” is in fact of fundamental importance to reaching efficiency in the use of resources, since it ensures economic growth whilst consuming fewer primary resources. It should be emphasised that a gradual increase in efficiency in the use of resources is, however, possible, even with the previous linear economic model, but in view of the prospect of ever greater insecurity in the supply of resources, the “circular economy” approach promises stronger future scenarios. It is by no coincidence, therefore, that this will also be one of the main themes of Green Week 2014, the most important annual conference on European environmental policy.

Together with the Communication, the European Commission has also adopted a draft Directive which will modify the main European legislative texts regarding waste, with the aim of fixing new waste targets; the draft Directive and the Communication form part of the European “circular economy” package, which aims to boost recycling techniques, to consequently create work and economic growth, to reach the objective of zero-waste through the use of a new business model as well as innovative eco-design criteria, and finally to reduce emissions and the environmental impact.

The recent proposals made by the Directive

The draft Directive which may amend existing Directives governing waste sets itself aims to be achieved by 2030: recycling of up to 70% of municipal waste and the recycling of up to 80% of packing and packaging, with particular reference to paper for which a target of 90% recycling by 2025 is expected. The draft Directive also intends to simplify the reporting obligations of operators involved and to more clearly define the duties of small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as to improve the global coherence of current legislative texts, aligning the definitions and eliminating the legal requirements which are now obsolete.

The main European associations and federations whose sectors will be impacted by the proposal of a Directive of the EU Commission, have already published a position paper to receive the new text. Even though the reception has generally been positive, there have been requests for clarification on a series of points contained within the proposal, primarily on the definition itself of recycling which, as it is currently, appears to be too vague and risks being misleading in the calculation of the respective recycling targets.

Major differences between Member States

Furthermore, it is impossible ignore the vast differences that still exist between Member States with regard to waste management, in particular relating to the quality of the monitoring instruments such as the statistics on the production and management of waste. As a total quantity between the twenty-eight Member States, 492 kg of waste per capita was produced in 2012: this quantity varies considerably, however, from State to State, going from 668 kg per capita in Denmark to 270 Kg per capita in Estonia. Even waste disposal methods can vary considerably between the Member States, with countries which have almost abandoned landfill reaching high recycling levels, and others which continue to use landfill as the main instrument of waste disposal.