EU Circular Economy: An Action Plan to Reduce Waste

The European Commission presented the new Circular Economy Action plan on the 2nd of December 2015. The one-page document is meant to guide the sustainable transition towards a circular economy in Europe, improve EU competitiveness and stimulate green growth. To achieve this goal, a series of actions have been proposed by the European Commission. Not all policy fields will be covered, but well-developed waste management could generate savings worth €600 billion per year in Europe.

Circular movement in a park

At its core, a circular economy implies that materials are kept in use for as long time as possible, their quality is maintained or even enhanced over time so they can be used again and again without being downgraded or ending up as waste. In this way, valuable resources can be put back into use and waste is reduced, often significantly.

A circular economy consists of three major ‘R’: reduce the use of finite resources; reuse products and materials (to avoid extracting new raw materials and limit the use of fresh ones), and recycle (or recover) material at the end of a product’s life to minimise the quantity sent for disposal.

What Is Circular Economy?

We can explain it in several words: an economy that aims to keep materials in use for as long time as possible. We can find examples in nature: when we plant a tree we don’t expect it to have a limited lifespan. A tree is seen as a renewable resource because we can cut down the tree and plant another one so it will grow again. In human society there are other possibilities to make materials last longer: for example, products can be repaired instead of being thrown away; or they can be used as spare parts for another product (so-called “downcycling”).

The circular economy includes three major R’: reduce consumption by using more efficiently; reuse products and components to not extract new raw materials; recover materials at the end of a product’s life. The best-known examples are car-sharing or recycling paper/glass/plastic waste (which means that the same products are recycled over and over again).

The circular economy is a profitable way to do business, as it reduces the costs of raw materials and saves energy. Furthermore, it creates jobs in developing new green technologies. This is especially important for Europe which must overcome its economic crisis and create new industry sectors – with a sustainable approach – including recycling industries or sharing services. In this way, we can keep our social standards at the same time that we reduce our impact on the environment.

In contrast to a linear economy, where resources are extracted from Earth, put into use and then disposed of as waste after their end-of-life, a circular economy aims to keep materials in use for as long time as possible.

On top of these savings, it creates jobs in developing new green technologies. For example, recycling industries can be used as an opportunity for European Union, helping us keep our social standards while decreasing the negative impact on the environment.

The main objective of the Directive is to prevent waste and stimulate higher recycling rates through extended producer responsibility (EPR).

What is included in this circular economy package?

There are four legislative proposals presented by the Commission that make up the Circular Economy Package:

1. Updated Waste Derective

A revised Waste Directive that requires coherent definitions across waste streams; more stringent targets for recycling of municipal waste, packaging materials (i.e paper/cardboard, glass), and construction and demolition waste; extended producer responsibility schemes for all types of appliances; criteria for landfilling in order to avoid it, with high environmental standards in place. This also sets up the framework under which certain waste streams (e-waste, end-of-life vehicles, batteries) will be prioritised.

2. Governance Package

Circular Economy Governance Package that revises existing legislation to include landfill diversion targets at Member State level; includes an updated definition of recycling; updates the concept of recovery and sets new decoupling targets aimed at reducing Europe’s dependence on finite resources; updates the secondary raw materials regulation.

3. Marketing Strategy

The Market Strategy encourages product design, innovation market uptake and standards (eco-labels).) A separate proposal on measuring progress towards the circular economy goal is also included.

4. Action Plan

4) The Action Plan for the Circular Economy sets out how to finance waste management, clean production and eco-design measures; proposes new product requirements in line with the transition towards a circular economy; sets guidelines on sustainable procurement practices in public markets; calls for more research on virgin materials consumption, and establishes an expert group to review future legislative proposals.


Find the most frequently asked questions about the circular economy plan here.

What are the EU circular economy action plan objectives?

The Circular Economy Package has four main targets: boosting the competitiveness of the EU’s industry; decoupling economic growth from resource use; reducing GHG emissions in line with commitments made under the Paris Climate Agreement, and protecting the environment by achieving Good Environmental Status. In addition, it has a positive effect on people’s health by using more friendly products (without dangerous substances) safe for everyone.

Who is it for?

This Directive is for all EU Member States and European businesses but does not apply to the transport sector. It includes measures in particular in relation to packaging, batteries, electrical and electronic equipment, vehicles, end of life vehicles, manufacturers’ responsibility, landfills and incineration with energy recovery. The rules do not cover food or feed chains.

What is to be achieved?

The aim of this initiative is to ensure that valuable material stays in use for as long as possible, whilst phasing out substances that are harmful to health or the environment. By making better use of raw materials we will be able to save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), create jobs and generate investment opportunities while increasing Europe’s competitiveness.

How will it be achieved?

The actions in this circular economy package are taken to reinforce the existing waste legislation and to create a “circular” single market. The revised Waste Directive takes an economic approach, shifting the burden of costs from final users towards producers, who will need to take financial responsibility for their products throughout the entire life cycle. It strengthens recycling targets and aims at reducing landfills while sending clear signals for cleaner production throughout the economy.

It also simplifies rules on separate collection of bio-waste and packaging (improving clarity). Member States can choose whether or not they wish to adapt their national programmes (i.e. set up separate collections). The Circular Economy Governance Package aims to move up a gear. It will ensure that waste management targets are met at all levels. This means designing waste out of the system by putting an end to landfilling, promoting re-use and recycling, and limiting incineration without energy recovery. In addition, it provides for more stringent greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements which will have a knock-on effect on other sectors such as transport or construction.

How does this fit into wider EU environmental policies?

While these proposals contribute to achieving some of the goals set out in other environmental files (e.g Circular Economy Strategy), their main focus is shifting away from landfilling which has been identified as one of the most important issues requiring urgent action to decouple growth from resource use. Once adopted, the revised Waste Framework Directive will also help meet the targets of climate and energy legislation by reducing GHG emissions.

Who does this impact?

The proposed measures have a direct effect on industry, consumers and local authorities which are all expected to play their part in moving towards a circular economy with a zero-waste society. In particular, producers will contribute to meeting recovery and recycling targets as well as end-of-waste criteria under the revised Waste Framework Directive that would need to be met for specific products (e.g electrical and electronic equipment, vehicles). Local authorities must set up separate collections if they haven’t already done so or make sure that existing systems work properly. Producers will have to pay those costs.

How is this being funded?

In the case of the circular economy package, all actions have a budget allocated to them. For example, EUR 100 million will be made available for product design and innovation, while a further EUR 400 million has been set aside over the next three years to finance research and development in circular economy-related technologies.

In addition, improved waste management – including better separate collection – can deliver significant cost savings as well as environmental benefits. The Circular Economy Governance will also help save money by removing unnecessary administrative burdens that businesses face at both national and local levels across Europe. This means more efficient planning for companies which makes it easier to focus on high-quality products. It should also save money in the long run by avoiding future costs in waste and landfills.

What is the timeline for this?

The proposals on waste will need to be approved by the European Parliament and EU Ministers before they become law. The Circular Economy Governance Package, which includes updated legislation on waste management planning, was already adopted in December 2015. It allows the Member States to decide whether or not they wish to set up separate collections at the local level but requires them to do so when recycling targets are not met.


Sincerely, Oforiwa Agyapong and Maryam Rahmanian (11100) ENSS students at Ransom Everglades School. Last Updated: September 30th 2016. Shortlink: Reproducible is available upon request by emailing: [email protected] with “Planetary Health Assignment” as your subject line. This document is for educational purposes only and may not be redistributed without consent from the author(s). All citations and references should be correctly used and listed as soon as the article is finished. Content may not be reproduced without consent from the author(s).