The circular economy, including new waste and recycling laws, will represent “half” of the EU’s effort to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and will be erected as “the number one priority” of the upcoming European Green Deal, officials have said.
The EU’s 2015 circular economy action plan – which included a ban on single-use plastics and new recycling targets – has “paved the way for something new, something bigger,” according to a senior official overseeing the policy area at the European Commission.
The circular economy is “the number one priority” for the European Green Deal of incoming EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said Kęstutis Sadauskas, who is the director for circular economy and green growth at the Commission’s environment directorate.
Unveiled in December 2015, the first circular economy action plan became one of the hallmarks of the outgoing EU executive. Highlights included a ban on single-use plastic products like cutlery and food containers. And at least 70% of packaging will have to be recycled by 2030 – including 55% of plastics – under new rules brokered last year.
But that was “only the beginning of the journey,” Sadauskas said at a recent EURACTIV event. Indeed, the European Commission is now preparing a second circular economy action plan that “will come out rather soon after the new Commission takes office,” he said.
The new action plan is in fact already written and ready to be pulled out of the drawer. All that’s missing is a few minor details and, most importantly, the finishing touches of the political message, EURACTIV understands.
“Half” of 2050 climate goal
And what is already clear is that the scale of the new plan is going to be bigger. Ursula von der Leyen, the incoming Commission president, wants Europe to cut carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050. And EU sources say the new circular economy action plan will make up “half” of the carbon cuts expected under the Green Deal.
The 2050 climate objective will be “the big highlight” of the Green Deal and “the headline goal that drives everything else,” Sadauskas indicated.
“Circularity can bridge half of the gap towards the 1.5C target,” the official said, citing heavy industries where circular solutions can help cut “hundreds of millions of tonnes” of CO2.
There is much still to be done to make the economy truly circular, though. Global resource use is expected to double in the next 40 years as a growing share of the Asian population adopts Western lifestyles, Sadauskas pointed out. And much of those materials are still going to waste, he said.
“We’re still living in a linear world,” the official warned, saying only 12% of materials currently find their way back into the economy via recycling and re-use.
“What we’ve done is only laying the foundations,” the EU official said. “But the real big transition still needs to happen and that’s what we’re planning for the next political phase.”