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European Commission launches new circular economy consultation

The European Commission has launched a 12-week public consultation on new policy options to help develop a waste reduction plan that it calls the 'circular economy'. 29 May 2015

The circular economy plans propose that instead of a model of consumption that the Commission describes as 'take, make' dispose', businesses and individuals should try to keep resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them and recovering and reusing them as far as is possible.  

The Commission is consulting on a new version of a waste review, and a new action plan for a 'competitive' circular economy. These will be published by the end of this year, the Commission said.

The Commission adopted a 'circular economy package' in July 2014. However, this had a "rather exclusive focus on waste management without appropriately exploring synergies with other policies," and was withdrawn in December 2014 with a plan to replace it with a "new, more ambitious proposal" in 2015.

Policy options in the new proposal look at waste policy "and beyond", the Commission said, including looking at intelligent product design, reuse and repair of products, recycling, sustainable consumption, recycling levels, 'smart' use of raw materials, and stronger markets for secondary raw materials.

"The Commission is aiming to present a new, more ambitious circular economy strategy … to transform Europe into a more competitive resource-efficient economy, addressing a range of economic sectors, including waste," it said.

Environmental law expert Fiona Ross of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "Ever since the original circular economy proposal was shelved at the end of 2014 the industry has waited with interest for the promised new and more ambitious package to be launched this year."

"The public consultation announced by the European Commission is a key step in that process, with a detailed questionnaire on appropriate measures to develop and drive a circular economy," she said.

"The concept of the circular economy is one where value is retained within the economy wherever possible, and measures such as ecodesign and better management of resources are considered key to achieving this," Ross said.

In a separate statement, Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said: "Europe's future economic development must be part of a sustainable long-term agenda. We need to use our resources more intelligently, design our products with a view to their re-use and recycling, and set ambitious targets for waste reduction and recycling. Today we are asking people across Europe for their input on how to design our policies in a way that stimulates a competitive green economy in Europe and protects the environment for future generations."

Commission vice-president jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness Jyrki Katainen said: "Moving towards a more sustainable circular economy can create win-win solutions and provide Europe with a new competitive advantage. We want to put forward a comprehensive action plan with incentives for both consumers and businesses to use resources more efficiently. For this we need input from stakeholders in all parts of the value chains."

The consultation runs until 20 August and contributions are "welcome from citizens, organisations and public authorities".

A separate public consultation on waste market distortions is already on-going and open to all interested stakeholders, the Commission said.