Member States will follow a single EU legislative framework merging industrial policies and environmental protection to encourage sustainable economic and social development.

By Paul A. Davies and Jörn Kassow

The European Parliament adopted the new Circular Economy Package, on 18 April 2018, setting ambitious, legally binding EU targets for waste recycling and reduction of landfilling. The package aims to further increase municipal waste recycling and lower the amount of landfilling. Currently, over a quarter of municipal waste is still landfilled and less than half is recycled or composted. This has a negative impact on the environment, climate, human health, as well as the economy.

Through the updated waste management legislation, the EU promotes a shift to a more sustainable model known as the circular economy. This is a model of production and consumption that extends the lifecycle of products, components, and materials, to reduce waste disposal to a minimum. This shall replace the former linear economic model, which is based on a “take-make-consume-throw away” pattern and therefore wastes a lot of resources and energy.

The Circular Economy Package sets recycling goals for both municipal and packaging waste. The municipal waste recycling target is set to 55% by 2025, 60% by 2030, and 65% by 2035. In addition, 65% of packaging materials will have to be recycled by 2025, and 70% by 2030. This overall rate is specified for certain packaging materials, such as plastic (50% by 2025, 55% by 2030), wood (25% by 2025, 30% by 2030), ferrous metals (70% by 2025, 80% by 2030), aluminum (50% by 2025, 60% by 2030), glass (70% by 2025, 75% by 2030), and paper and cardboard (75% by 2025, 85% by 2030).

Simultaneously, the Package aims to reduce the amount of municipal waste landfilling to no more than 10% by 2035. While several EU Member States (for example Austria, Belgium, and Denmark) sent virtually no municipal waste to landfills in 2014, other Member States, such as Croatia, Greece, and Malta, still landfill more than three quarters of their municipal waste. Clearly, municipal waste disposal varies widely between Member States.

Furthermore, biodegradable waste, textiles, and hazardous waste will have to be collected separately by 2024 and/or 2025. Alternatively, biodegradable waste can be composted at home.

In addition, the Circular Economy Package encourages a 30% reduction in food waste by 2025, and a 50% reduction by 2030. This equals the sustainable development goals set by the United Nations. However, other than the recycling and landfilling targets, these goals are not legally binding.

According to European Parliament member Simona Bonafè, “[f]or the first time, Member States will be obliged to follow a single, shared legislative framework. […] With this package, Europe is firmly committed to sustainable economic and social development, which will at last integrate industrial policies and environmental protection.”

The European Council will need to approve the Circular Economy Package before it can enter into force.

Latham will continue to monitor the progress of the Circular Economy Package.