18 January 2016 | Herpreet Grewal
Late last year, the European Commission announced the adoption of a ‘Circular Economy Package’ to include revised legislative proposals on waste to stimulate Europe’s transition towards a circular economy.
The move, says the commission, is meant to “boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs”.
A circular economy is the alternative to the traditional ‘take, make, dispose’ linear economy by which resources are used for as long as possible “with the maximum value from them extracted while in use, then recovered and regenerated products and materials at the end of each service life”.
Barry Dennis, chair of resource efficiency event RWM, commented: “Our sector is at the heart of innovation to recover valuable resources, but we need to stop thinking inefficient use of materials is a problem for the recycling and waste management industry to solve single-handedly. The circular economy will only be achieved when everyone from all sectors including manufacturing, retail, technology and consumers see the cost benefits of being more resourceful with materials.”
David Burton, of sustainability consultancy Ecosurety, added: “While we welcome the fact the commission wants to capture an extra 600 million tonnes of waste currently going into landfill, we need to ensure that any legislative change is realistic, pragmatic and cost-effective and that pursuing recycling targets per se doesn’t end up with a net environmental deficit because we will have taken our eye off the key issues of sustainability and climate change.
“The EU circular economy package is a step in the right direction, but much more can and should be done to ensure that resources are no longer treated as problematic waste. Now that the circular economy concept is taking hold, there is real potential for reusable resources to result in significant economic, environmental and social gains.”
What it means for FM
Research by Imperial College London last year estimated that a circular economy could add £29 billion to UK GDP. Steve Lee, chief executive of the Chartered Institution of Waste Management said that FM “is in a position of great influence and can offer the focus and skills on resource efficiency and security and efficient waste management that often eludes many waste producers”.
The Circular Economy Package consists of an EU Action Plan for the circular economy that establishes “a concrete and ambitious programme of action, with measures covering the whole cycle, from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials”. However, critics have warned that the plan is “too weak to make it happen”.
Joan Marc Simon, executive director of non-profit Zero Waste Europe, said the proposed package “opens with the same scope as the former proposal and contains some positive elements, such as the obligation for member states to align waste management pricing with waste hierarchy, but it’s not a more ambitious proposal.
“The new waste legislation has been watered down as compared to 2014’s package, while the action plan is mostly a patchwork of very vague policy proposals, some of them not expected to be implemented until the end of the current commission mandate.”
In a separate development, a report produced by WRAP for the London Sustainable Development Commission (LSDC), London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB), and the Greater London Authority (GLA), recommended a move away from the traditional linear economy. In ‘Employment And The Circular Economy’ WRAP argues that a reusing, remanufacturing, repair, and rental revolution could create more than 40,000 new jobs in London by 2030. Growth in London’s circular economy would deliver “substantial economic and environmental benefits” and see resources and products “used more efficiently by keeping them in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum economic value from them whilst in use, and then recovering and reusing products and materials”.
A circular economy would be good for job creation because the types of businesses involved in reusing, repair, remanufacturing and rental require more labour to create economic value, notably among low to mid-skilled occupations, where future job losses in London are expected.