Preview Book

1.1 European Policies

In July 2014, the European Commission put forward an initial circular economy package. In particular it adopted a communication 'Towards a circular economy: a zero waste programme for Europe', together with a review of the targets in six waste management directives. According to the Commission, the communication and the accompanying legislative proposal fit into the Roadmap to a resource efficient Europe and more broadly into the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth (European Parliament, 2014).

Turning waste into a resource is part of ‘closing the loop’ in circular economy systems”, as it is stated in the communication and although Europe has made substantial progress in this direction, performance varies considerably between Member States. Thus, strong policy signals are needed so that materials, such as plastics, glass, metals, paper, wood, rubber and other recyclables, re-enter the economy as secondary raw materials at competitive prices. The communication sets clear recycling targets for the period to 2030 which can provide predictability for investment and change (European Commission, 2014a).

In order to boost the economic, social and environmental benefits gained from the better management of municipal waste, the Commission proposes to:

• Boost reuse and recycling of municipal waste to a minimum of 70% by 2030;

• Increase the recycling rate for packaging waste to 80% by 2030, with interim targets of 60% by 2020 and 70% by 2025, including targets for specific materials;

• Ban the landfilling of recyclable plastics, metals, glass, paper and cardboard, and biodegradable waste by 2025, while Member States should endeavour to virtually eliminate landfill by 2030;

• Further promote the development of markets for high quality secondary raw materials, including through evaluating the added value of end-of-waste criteria for specific materials;

• Clarify the calculation method for recycled materials in order to ensure a high recycling quality level.


To address specific waste challenges the Commission:

• Proposes an aspirational target of reducing marine litter by 30% by 2020 for the ten most common types of litter found on beaches, as well as for fishing gear found at sea, with the list adapted to each of the four marine regions in the EU;

• Envisages measures to stimulate markets in recycled materials derived from construction and demolition waste and develop a common EU assessment framework for the environmental performance of buildings;

• Proposes that Member States develop national food-waste prevention strategies and endeavour to ensure that food waste in the manufacturing, retail/distribution, food service/hospitality sectors and households is reduced by at least 30% by 2025;

• Envisages developing a proper registry system for at least hazardous waste in all Member States;

• Further to its proposal to reduce the use of lightweight plastic bags, proposes that plastics be banned from landfill by 2025;

• Proposes that Member States shall include measures regarding collection and recycling of waste containing significant amounts of critical raw materials in their national waste management plans; and

• Is considering developing a policy framework on phosphorus to enhance its recycling, foster innovation, improve market conditions and mainstream its sustainable use in EU legislation on fertilisers, food, water and waste.

In March 2015, the Commission withdrew the legislative proposal on waste included in that package, to make way for 'a more ambitious proposal that will cover the whole of the circular economy'. As part of a new circular economy package, in December 2015 the Commission presented an action plan for the circular economy, as well as four legislative proposals amending the following legal acts: a) Waste Framework Directive; b) Landfilling Directive; c) Packaging Waste Directive; d) Directives on end-of-life vehicles, on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators, and on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) (European Parliament, 2016).

According to this particular communication titled ‘Closing the loop - An EU action plan for the Circular Economy’ (European Commission, 2015a), the legislative proposals on waste, adopted together with this action plan, include long-term targets to reduce landfilling and to increase preparation for reuse and recycling of key waste streams such as municipal waste and packaging waste. As it is pointed out, “by stimulating sustainable activity in key sectors and new business opportunities, the plan will help to unlock the growth and jobs potential of the circular economy. It includes comprehensive commitments on ecodesign, the development of strategic approaches on plastics and chemicals, a major initiative to fund innovative projects under the umbrella of the EU's Horizon 2020 research programme, and targeted action in areas such as plastics, food waste, construction, critical raw materials, industrial and mining waste, consumption and public procurement. Other key legislative proposals on fertilisers and water reuse will follow. Finally, horizontal enabling measures in areas such as innovation and investment are included to stimulate the transition to a circular economy. The proposed actions support the circular economy in each step of the value chain – from production to consumption, repair and remanufacturing, waste management, and secondary raw materials that are fed back into the economy”.


Priority areas. A number of sectors face specific challenges in the context of the circular economy, because of the specificities of their products or value-chains, their environmental footprint or dependency on material from outside Europe. These sectors need to be addressed in a targeted way, to ensure that the interactions between the various phases of the cycle are fully taken into account along the whole value chain.


Food waste

Critical raw materials

Construction and demolition

Biomass and bio-based products

Innovation, investment, and other horizontal measures

Monitoring progress towards a circular economy



The Annex to the communication (European Commission, 2015b) presents the measures that need to be taken forward, followed by a timetable. The measures refer to the broader actions of production, consumption, waste management and market for secondary raw materials, as well as sectoral actions, as referred to in the above box (i.e. plastics, food waste etc).

The 2008 Waste Framework Directive (European Parliament, 2008) sets the overarching legislative framework. It defines the main concepts linked to waste management and it sets binding targets to be achieved by 2020: preparing for reuse and recycling of 50% of certain waste materials from households and similar sources, and preparing for reuse, recycling and other recovery of 70% of construction and demolition waste (European Parliament, 2016). The proposal (European Commission, 2008) amending the Waste Framework Directive sets targets regarding the share of municipal waste prepared for reuse and recycling to be met by 2025 and 2030. It also defines general requirements for extended producer responsibility schemes. It requires in particular financial contributions paid by producers to EPR schemes to be modulated based on the costs necessary to treat their products at the end of their life. In addition, the proposal requires Member States to use economic instruments to implement the waste hierarchy, to take measures to prevent waste generation and to ensure the separate collection of bio-waste where appropriate (European Parliament, 2016).

The 1999 Directive on the landfill (European Commission, 1999) of waste bans landfilling of untreated waste and sets targets. Compared to 1995, the base year, the share of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfills may not be greater than 75% in 2006, 50% in 2009 and 35% in 2016, with derogations granted to 16 Member States. The proposal (European Commission, 2015c) amending the Landfilling Directive introduces a landfilling ban for separately collected waste and limits the share of municipal waste landfilled to 10% by 2030.

The 1994 Directive on packaging and packaging waste (European Commission, 1994) aims to protect the environment and to safeguard the functioning of the internal market. It requires Member States to take measures to prevent packaging waste and to develop packaging reuse systems. The original 1994 Directive, and the amended version from 2004, set targets with regard to recovery and recycling of packaging waste. The Directive was modified in 2015 to introduce requirements on lightweight plastic carrier bags (European Parliament, 2016). The proposal (European Commission, 2015d) amending the Packaging Waste Directive sets targets for the share of packaging waste prepared for reuse and recycling to be met by 2025 and 2030, with specific targets for various packaging materials.

The 2000 Directive on end-of-life vehicles (European Commission, 2000) aims to ensure appropriate management of end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) in the EU. It encourages manufacturers and importers to limit the use of hazardous substances and to develop the integration of recycled materials. The Directive sets targets for recovery and recycling to be met by 2006 and 2015 (European Parliament, 2016).

The 2006 Directive on batteries and accumulators (European Commission, 2006) aims to improve the waste management and environmental performance of batteries and accumulators, as well as to ensure the functioning of the single market by establishing rules for their collection, recycling, treatment and disposal. It also sets limit values for certain hazardous substances (in particular mercury and cadmium) in batteries and accumulators. The Directive provides for the creation of extended producer responsibility schemes and sets recycling and collection targets to be met by 2010, 2012 and 2016 (European Parliament, 2016).

The Directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE Directive) (European Commission, 2012a), updated in 2012, sets incremental targets on several aspects: minimum rates for separate collection, recovery and recycling/preparing for reuse (European Parliament, 2016). The proposal amending the above three directives (European Commission, 2015e) is based on the realization of the need, among others, to improve waste management in the Union, “with a view to protecting, preserving and improving the quality of the environment, protecting human health, ensuring prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources and promoting a more circular economy”.

Overall, the revised legislative proposals on waste set clear targets for reduction of waste and establish an ambitious and credible long-term path for waste management and recycling. Key elements of the revised waste proposal include:

  • A common EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030;
  • A common EU target for recycling 75% of packaging waste by 2030;
  • A binding landfill target to reduce landfill to maximum of 10% of municipal waste by 2030;
  • A ban on landfilling of separately collected waste;
  • Promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling ;
  • Simplified and improved definitions and harmonised calculation methods for recycling rates throughout the EU;
  • Concrete measures to promote re-use and stimulate industrial symbiosis - turning one industry's by-product into another industry's raw material;
  • Economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes (eg for packaging, batteries, electric and electronic equipments, vehicles) (European Commission, 2017a).

The proposals that amend the six directives are in line with the objectives of the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe and the 7th Environment Action Programme. Briefly, the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (COM(2011) 571) outlines how we can transform Europe's economy into a sustainable one by 2050. It proposes ways to increase resource productivity and decouple economic growth from resource use and its environmental impact. It illustrates how policies interrelate and build on each other (European Commission, 2016a).

The 7th Environment Action Programme (EAP) will be guiding European environment policy until 2020. It identifies three key objectives:

  • to protect, conserve and enhance the Union’s natural capital
  • to turn the Union into a resource-efficient, green, and competitive low-carbon economy
  • to safeguard the Union's citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health and wellbeing

Four so called "enablers" will help Europe deliver on these goals:

  • better implementation of legislation
  • better information by improving the knowledge base
  • more and wiser investment for environment and climate policy
  • full integration of environmental requirements and considerations into other policies

Two additional horizontal priority objectives complete the programme:

  • to make the Union's cities more sustainable
  • to help the Union address international environmental and climate challenges more effectively European Commission, 2016b)

One year after adopting its Circular Economy Package, the Commission reports on the delivery and progress of key initiatives of its 2015 Action Plan with the ‘Report on the implementation of the Circular Economy Action Plan’ (European Commission, 2017a). The aim of the report (European Commission, 2017b) is to present an overview of the actions delivered in the implementation of the EU Action Plan since its adoption in December 2015, and to introduce key deliverables for 2017. As it is referred in the report, key actions have been undertaken in areas such as food waste, ecodesign, organic fertilisers, guarantees for consumer goods and innovation and investments.

Circular economy principles have also been gradually integrated in industrial best practices, green public procurement, the use of cohesion policy funds and through new initiatives in the construction and water sectors. More particularly, the following initiatives have been put forward to support the circular economy: Legislative proposal on online sales of goods (December 2015); Legislative proposal on fertilisers (March 2016); Launch of the Innovation Deals (May 2016); Ecodesign (November 2016); Food waste (throughout 2016); Waste-To-Energy (January 2017); Proposal to amend the Directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (January 2017); The platform to support the financing of circular economy (January 2017); An additionally: Guidance on circular economy into BREFs for several industrial sectors; Green Public Procurement; Updated Guidance on Unfair Commercial Practices Directive - Action on environmental claims; Stepping up enforcement of the revised Waste Shipment Regulation; Good practices in waste collection systems; Water reuse; Construction and demolition; Biomass and bio-based products; Support for circular economy through cohesion policy funds and smart specialisation strategies; Research and Innovation: Industry 2020 in the circular economy; Technology services to accelerate the uptake of advanced manufacturing for clean production by manufacturing SMEs.

Together with the above report, the Commission also (European Commission, 2017a):

The communication titled ‘The role of waste-to-energy in the circular economy’ (European Commission, 2017c) issued in January 26th 2017, focuses on energy recovery from waste and its place in the circular economy. “Waste-to-energy is a broad term that covers much more than waste incineration. It encompasses various waste treatment processes generating energy (e.g. in the form of electricity/or heat or produce a waste-derived fuel), each of which has different environmental impacts and circular economy potential”.

The main aim of this communication is to ensure that the recovery of energy from waste in the EU supports the objectives of the circular economy action plan and is firmly guided by the EU waste hierarchy. It clarifies the position of different waste-to-energy processes in the waste hierarchy and what this entails for public financial support; it provides guidance to Member States on how to make better use of economic instruments and capacity planning with a view to avoiding or addressing potential overcapacity in waste incineration; and it identifies the technology and processes which currently hold the greatest potential to optimise energy and material outputs, taking into account expected changes in the feedstock for waste-to-energy processes.

A couple of months earlier (30.11.2016), a communication from the commission titled ‘Ecodesign Working Plan 2016-2019’ (European Commission, 2016c) was issued, aiming to contribute to the Commission's initiative on the Circular Economy. It is estimated that, in future, ecodesign should make a much more significant contribution to the circular economy, for example by more systematically tackling material efficiency issues such as durability and recyclability. This Working Plan sets out the Commission's working priorities under the ecodesign and energy labelling framework for 2016-2019. Among others, it sets out how ecodesign will contribute better to circular economy objectives.

Thus, focusing on the contribution to circular economy, it is argued that the possibility to repair, remanufacture or recycle a product and its components and materials depends in large part on the initial design of the product. It is therefore crucial that these aspects are taken into account when investigating possible ecodesign implementing measures. In this respect, the Commission will develop a circular economy ‘toolbox’ for ecodesign and will also improve the methodological basis for a more systematic adoption of requirements related to material efficiency in product Regulations.

Moreover, in September 2016, the “EU Construction & Demolition Waste Management Protocol” (European Commission, 2016d) was published, with the overall aim to increase confidence in the Construction & Demolition (C&D) waste management process and the trust in the quality of C&D recycled materials. This will be achieved by: a) Improved waste identification, source separation and collection; b) Improved waste logistics; c) Improved waste processing; d) Quality management; e) Appropriate policy and framework conditions.

This Protocol fits within the Construction 2020 strategy (European Commission, 2012b), as well as the Communication on Resource Efficiency Opportunities in the Building Sector (European Commission, 2014b), and it is also part of the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package. It consists of 5 components, all of which contribute to the overall aim. The first three are based on the C&D waste management chain and two are of a horizontal nature: a. Waste identification, source separation and collection; b. Waste logistics; c. Waste processing; d. Quality management; e. Policy and framework conditions.

In March 2017, the Commission presented the first deliverable of Circular Economy Package with new rules on organic and waste-based fertilisers in the EU. The Commission is proposing a Regulation which will significantly ease the access of organic and waste-based fertilisers to the EU single market, bringing them on a level playing field with traditional, non-organic fertilisers. This will create new market opportunities for innovative companies while at the same time reducing waste, energy consumption and environmental damage. The Regulation sets out common rules on converting bio-waste into raw materials that can be used to manufacture fertilising products. It defines safety, quality and labelling requirements that all fertilising products need to comply with to be traded freely across the EU (European Commission, 2016e).