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Circular economy package misses key opportunities

15 December 2015

On 2 December, the European Commission launched its ‘flagship’ environmental policy of the year: the Circular Economy Package, which aims to tackle a wide range of resource-related issues, including waste disposal, packaging materials, construction and food waste – but sidesteps clear opportunities to do so.

In 2014, one of the first actions of the new Commission was to axe the earlier proposal, promising to replace it with something more ambitious. Yet in a move widely criticized by environmental NGOs, it appears that the previous proposal has been weakened. The new package dilutes Member States’ commitments in four key areas: recycling, reduction of food waste, collection of bio-waste and resource efficiency.

Fern’s concerns with the proposals lie on two main fronts: the lack of ambition to tackle rising demand for resources and to ensure sustainable sourcing of raw materials; and the failure to acknowledge that large-scale bioenergy use impedes a resource-efficient use of biomass.

The EU’s consumption of commodities such as palm oil, soy and beef make it the largest net importer of deforestation in the world. The proposals include commitments to reduce food waste, although lower than planned originally. Also, tackling only waste is not enough; the drivers of deforestation must also be addressed, and consumption patterns should be prioritised.

Since 2009, renewable energy subsidies have triggered a steep increase in the use of (woody) biomass for energy. This not only increases pressure on forests within and outside the EU, it also means taking biomass out of the resource cycle and emitting more CO2 into the atmosphere. The Circular Economy Package – which aims to make more from less for longer – would have been the perfect place to address this perverse effect of biomass by restricting incineration, but has failed to do so.

Land and biomass are finite resources, something that the Circular Economy proposals do not fully recognize. EU policy-makers have missed a real opportunity for improvement.

[Picture: Power plant in Bardejov, Slovakia; Fred Pearce]

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