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Resourcing the Future 2015 Conference – Austerity or Ambition?

29th June 2015 Posted by

On 25 June, I joined four other panellists in a debate on “Circular Economy: what should ‘ambition’ look like?” – a session in the CIWM, ESA and Resource Association’s two-day conference Resourcing the Future 2015 – Austerity or Ambition? 

The term ‘ambition’ was a reference to the European Commission’s pledge, that its revised circular economy package would be “more ambitious” than the previous version of the package it formally withdrew earlier this year.  Coincidentally, the European Commission were also debating the revised package in Brussels on the same day, an event attended by FEAD, the European waste management federation of which SUEZ environnement holds the current presidency.

The majority of the panellists, of CIWM’s annual conference, agreed that if the circular economy concept was to move from the fringes of the European economy exemplified by small pockets of good practice to become a mainstream activity, then regulation was likely to be more effective than voluntary measures.  This was a position echoed by Sirpa Pietikäinen, rapporteur on the circular economy package in the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, at a recent round table discussion attended by SUEZ environnement.  The Committee’s Own Initiative report on the package is due to be out shortly.

The panellists urged the Commission not to shy away from root-and-branch reform of the current legislative framework, which disproportionately focuses on end-of-pipe waste management aspects of the circular economy.  In this regard, revision of the Ecodesign Directive was seen as key.  Specifically, the revised Directive should include a requirement to design products for ease of dismantling and recyclability, together with an injunction to reduce their environmental footprint to a minimum, for example by prescribing a minimum recycled content.  Extended producer responsibility and green public procurement were recommended as other powerful policy instruments that the Commission should include in the revised package in order to increase demand for recycled materials within Europe.

But in the European Commission process is as important as principles.  SUEZ environnement pointed out that the tendency of previous administrations had been to introduce targets and other forms of regulation that required relatively little preparatory effort on the part of the Commission.  Legislation that arguably would have deeper and more far- reaching consequences – such as on ecodesign – had become stalled at the preparatory stage, and kicked into touch as being too difficult to resolve.  This had in no small part contributed to the present imbalance, with the waste management sector bearing the brunt of proposed new legislation.

SUEZ environnement favoured a two-stream approach, with work on deeper structural reform of the legislative landscape running alongside, but not impeding, the formulation of a new circular economy package by the end of 2015 designed to increase demand for recyclates over the shorter term by bringing forward policy levers that were conceptually well advanced – such as green public procurement.

While our sector would welcome “more ambitious” targets on recycling and landfill diversion to take effect post-2020, when the current suite of targets run their course, the panel emphasised the need for a stronger focus by the Commission on so-called demand-side measures in the new package, in order to stabilise recycling as a viable business in the European Union.

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