Bioeconomy policy monitor

Liz Gyekye

Welcome to our bioeconomy policy monitor page. Bio Market Insights (BMI) will chart the progress of specific global bioeconomy proposals as they go through the stages of the legislation procedure.

Circular Economy Package, European Commission, July 2018

The European Union (EU)’s landmark ‘Circular Economy Package’ came into force last year. By July 2020, the bloc’s 28 member states will have to incorporate the Package into national law. Some say that this legislation is the most ambitious set of measures ever agreed by the EU to boost recycling and cut waste.

Here, in our second policy monitor analysis, Bio Market Insights takes a detailed look at what the new proposals mean in practice.

Why are policymakers doing this?

Europe loses around 600 million tonnes of waste materials every year, which could potentially be recycled or reused, according to the European Commission. To address this problem, in December 2015, the Commission adopted a Circular Economy Action Plan to give a new boost to jobs, growth and investment and to develop a carbon neutral, resource-efficient and competitive economy. The 54 actions under the action plan have now been completed or are being implemented. The new circular economy rules aim to make Europe a “world leader in waste management”, European Commission’s vice president Frans Timmermans said. However, what do these rules and targets mean for the bioeconomy in the EU? We’ve pulled out the key proposals. Here’s what you need to know about them.

What targets do member states have to reach?

By 2025, EU countries will have to be recycling 55% of their municipal waste, rising to 60% in 2030 then 65% after a further five years. The new rules also target packaging, 65% of which will have to be collected for recycling by 2025, with the proportion rising to 70% in 2030. Specific targets for packaging for 2030 are also included for all packaging, plastic (55%), wood (30%) ferrous metals (80%) aluminium (60%), glass (75%) and paper and cardboard (85%).

Separately, as part of the EU’s Plastic Strategy, which forms part of the Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan, member states will have to make incorporate at least 25% of recycled plastic in PET bottles from 2025. From 2030, they will have to contain at least 30%.

What about bioplastics?

The Commission has committed to develop a framework on biodegradability of plastics under its Plastic Strategy. It hopes to ensure that the development and use of these plastic products are only encouraged when it is beneficial to the environment and does not interfere with waste management systems nor compromise food safety. Actions in this regard include providing information on how to handle them at the end-of-life stage (e.g. marking of home compostable plastic carriers bags). Further policy synergies in particular in combination with research needs are also explored in a recently published Commission report on circular economy of plastics.

What about biowaste?

In addition to material-specific targets, member states will have until 1 January 2025 to set up a separate collection for textile waste and hazardous waste from households and until 31 December 2023 to ensure that biowaste is either collected separately or recycled at source (e.g. home composting). The latter fact is stated in article 22.1 of the Waste Framework Directive, which forms part of the Circular Economy Package.

Article 22 of the Directive also states that the Commission will carry out an assessment on the management of biowaste with a view to submitting a proposal if appropriate. The assessment shall examine the opportunity of setting minimum requirements for biowaste management and quality criteria for compost and digestate from biowaste, in order to guarantee a high level of protection for human health and the environment.

How will member states divert waste from landfill?

A landfill reduction target is also included in the package, with member states expected to ensure that, as of 2030, all waste suitable for recycling or other recovery shall not be accepted in landfills, except waste for which landfilling is the best environmental outcome. In addition, member states will ensure that by 2035 the amount of municipal waste being sent to landfill is reduced to less than 10% of the amount of municipal waste generated.

What is the Commission doing to accelerate the transition to the circular economy?

Over the 2016-2020 period, the Commission has stepped up efforts in both directions totalling more than €10 billion in public funding to the transition. This includes: €1.4 billion from R&D programme Horizon 2020 (on areas such as sustainable process industries, waste and resource management, closed loop manufacturing systems or the circular bioeconomy), among which €350 million are allocated to making plastics circular. The Commission has published an inventory of the projects relevant to the circular economy funded under H2020 between 2016 and 2018.

Implementing the recently updated Bioeconomy Strategy and the revised renewable energy framework will be further steps towards using biological resources in a circular way, respecting the ecological boundaries and contributing to halting biodiversity loss.

Responsibility is put on member states, but what about the producers of these products?

Under the extended producer responsibility scheme, producers of products under these schemes are legally obliged to bear responsibility for the management of the waste stage of their products.

What’s the reaction from stakeholders?

Environmental groups and trade bodies have given a mixed reaction to the Circular Economy Package.

Piotr Barczak, senior policy officer for waste at NGO the European Environment Bureau, welcomed article 22.1 of the Waste Framework Directive. This article requires member states to collect biowaste separately everywhere by the end of 2023.

He told BMI: “This will be very beneficial for the bioeconomy as this valuable stream will be separated, ‘cleaner’ and in much larger amounts. Today, we lose about two-thirds of this stream as it ends up in residual streams.”

Barczak also said he welcomed article 22.2c of the Waste Framework Directive, which maintains that member states will promote the use of materials produced from biowaste.

John Williams, technical director at trade body Biobased & Biodegradable Industries Association, echoed Barczak’s views and said that the focus on minimising food waste “was sensible, as long as you also have a consistent method in collecting the food waste as well”.

He explained that local authorities needed to be clear on how they were going to collect the food waste and what they were going to collect it in.

In relation to recycling plastics, Williams told BMI: “The economic recovery of plastics is really difficult to do because you have different forms and combinations in relation to the functionality of the packaging. All the good things we want in primary functionality are barriers, protection, safety and preservation etc. These functions go as soon as you need to dispose of these packages because it becomes a complicated item to separate. This is one of the main reasons the waste industry has struggled to deal with recovering end-of-life plastics because whilst there are identification and separation methods available, they are very expensive and difficult to implement.”

Even though Williams welcomed the Circular Economy Package overall, he was critical of what he described as the setting of “impossible targets”. He claimed that legislators “sometimes set deliberately difficult targets” in order to “stretch people to get them to innovate more quickly and to help solve the problem more quickly than you would if you had set an easy target”.

He added: “I get that by a certain time, most plastic packaging will need to contain a certain percentage of recycled content. However, the legislators have been advised by the food and packaging industry that this is not a feasible proposition in food packaging because ‘you have too many residuals’ in the packaging. Nevertheless, the driver is to go as far as you can.”

Williams concluded: “I get the overall aim. Yet, the devil is in the detail in how that is transcribed into penalties and levies. Also, if you make targets too hard, people go out of business. This includes the whole system (including local authorities). All in all, there will not be a lot of money within the system because you are making it too difficult.  You need a balance and I don’t think they have quite got that right yet.”

Where are we now and what next?

Member states have until 5 July 2020 to transpose the directives that make up the Circular Economy Package into their national laws.

Elsewhere, as part of the European Commission’s overall 2015 circular economy action plan, the EU will also have to develop its plastics strategy, its circular economy monitoring framework and the interface between chemical, product and waste legislations.

Further reading:

Circular Economy Package – source: European Commission

Author – Liz Gyekye, deputy editor at Bio Market Insights.

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