On 12th March 2020, the European Commission revealed another component of its plan to make Europe energy neutral by 2050: the circular economy action plan shall ensure that the European economy becomes more resource efficient. This does not only concern improved recycling and the reuse of raw materials, but also facilitating repairs and providing better information for consumers.
In 2017, each EU citizen accumulated 173 kg of packaging waste. Should production and consumption pattern remain unchanged, the annual volume of waste will increase by 70 % by 2050. Not only with these figures in mind, it is obvious that our throwaway society is based on an excessive waste of resources. That is why the Commission, aided by the presented action plan, wants to strengthen the circular economy and separate economy growth from resource utilisation - an objective, which has already been set in respect of energy policy, but not yet for the transport sector.
A central component of the action plan is a far-reaching regulation of key product value chains, whereby electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops form one main product group. The quantity of waste in this group does not only increase above average, it is also true that less than 40 % of electronic waste is recycled. For this reason, the Commission wants to expand the “Right to Repair” in this sector, which is also to include a right to upgrade outdated software. After all, surveys have shown that two third of Europeans would use their digital devices longer if hardware and software would allow it. The chargers for mobile phones shall be unified and the take-back system shall be improved. Apart from that it has been planned to take measures against premature obsolescence (limited durability/functionality of products) followed by a ban on the destruction of unsold, non-perishable goods.
Another focus is also on textiles: regarding the consumption of primary raw materials and water, the textile industry ranks in fourth place, behind food production, housing and transport. However, only 1 % of textiles are recycled. This is added by the fact that up to 60 % of clothing is produced outside the EU, often under disastrous conditions. Hence, the Commission intends to propose an EU strategy for textiles in 2021 to make their recycling easier. A separate collection of textiles has been envisaged for 2025. The Commission also has brought the concept of “product as a service” into play, whereby manufacturers remains the owner of their products, assuming the responsibility for their service during their entire life cycle. However, one has to wait until next year to find out what this concept will look like in concrete terms.
The Commission also focusses on food waste. According to estimates, 20 % of all food produced in Europe is not consumed. The “Farm to Fork Strategy”, which will be presented before the summer, shall address this problem. However, there is no mention of a possible ban on disposing of non-sold food, which would still be fit for consumption.
Furthermore, the Commission has announced further measures to increase the share of recycling and to promote the utilisation of these secondary raw materials. Apart from that, it wants to ensure that the problems surrounding the export of waste into third countries will be reduced and that environmental crime regarding illegal exports will be stopped. To achieve this, it also intends to use the instrument of trade agreements and of external finance.
Regarding all these approaches, it is of vital importance not to neglect the significance of the social dimension of these measures. About four million employees in the EU are working in the circular economy sector and counting. Hence, the EU must contribute to creating high-quality jobs. Only then, it will be possible to implement the Green Deal by 2050 and to enable a socially just transition.