The 'Circular Economy Package' requires member states to recycle 70% of municipal waste and 80% of packaging waste by 2030. A zero-waste-to-landfill policy for plastics, paper, metals, glass and bio-waste will also be enforced in 2025, so that no more than 25% of waste generated is landfilled.
Specific recycling targets will gradually increase between 2020 and 2030 to reach 60% for plastics, 80% for wood, 90% of ferrous metal, aluminium and glass by the end of 2030; and 90% paper by 2025. The commission believes that these new targets could create more than half a million new jobs in waste management across the EU.
Details of this new circular economy framework were first revealed by edie at European Green Week in Brussels last month. Speaking at that event, the Commissioner for Environment Janez Potočnik said: "European waste legislation has proven that it's working very well.
"The situation from year to year in each of the member states is changing for the better, but the difference between each member state is still huge and that's why it is really important that we work together to have the same vision."
The revised package of measures has had a mixed reception in the UK so far, with some organisations welcoming this heightened ambition but others claiming the proposals are 'insufficient'.
Iain Gulland, director of Zero Waste Scotland, said: "I'd like to welcome this heightened ambition to advance a resource efficient economy across Europe. Scotland is already leading the way through its Zero Waste Plan, which in effect offers a 'blueprint' for many of these new proposals.
"We're committed to maximising efficient resource use, and our comprehensive programme aims to help businesses and public sector organisations across Scotland to realise the benefits of this. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government and others to ensure the detail of the Commission's proposals support the outcomes we're working to achieve."
Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) waste and resource management expert panel chair, Nigel Mattravers, also welcomes the Commission’s new recycling targets, but believes the 70% target is ‘extremely ambitious for the UK’.
“The targets will encourage EU member states to seek the optimum value from waste,” said Mattravers. “The new 70% target is however extremely ambitious for the UK given the momentum behind the current 2020 goal of 50% recycling has flat lined, and meeting it will require strategic leadership and coordination.
“ICE believes this could be achieved through the creation of an Office for Resource Management sitting within Government– this would ensure the circular economy principle is fully understood and entrenched right across Government. It would also be responsible for liaison with devolved administrations in the pursuit of UK wide targets or EU regulations.”
But Friends of the Earth Europe says the Circular Economy Package lacks concrete measures in many areas and fails to take into account all of the resources that Europe consumes.
Resource use campaigner Ariadna Rodrigo said: "The plans fail to currently address resources, like land and water, contained in the products we consume. If Europe is going to take resource overconsumption seriously then it needs to start measuring all the land, carbon, water and material it's responsible for consuming - and making plans to reduce these in absolute terms."
The Circular Economy Package will also encompass plans to combat marine litter, which is a serious hazard to aquatic life including seabirds, whales and dolphins, and food waste, which can be used to create compost and fertiliser or to generate energy from capturing the methane it produces as it rots.
The 'circular economy' is an alternative to a traditional ‘linear economy’ with its make/use/dispose model. In the circular model, people keep resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each useful life. Read our 10 things you need to know about the circular economy.
REPORT: European Commission's Circular Economy Package
The new approach is set out in the below Communication which explains how innovation in markets for recycled materials, new business models, eco-design and industrial symbiosis can move the EU towards zero-waste. This Communication is accompanied by a legislative proposal for more ambitious waste targets, putting the circular economy into practice.