The European Commission's second attempt at a Circular Economy Package, launched on December 2, has a hard task. Many said that the first version was too focused on waste and lacked ambition on eco-design, some thought that it didn't go far enough on waste, whilst the newer EU countries said it went too far too soon on all fronts. So the second improved version was never going to please everyone.
After a huge amount of consultation what's emerged is something that tries to be much more balanced across the whole lifecycle of products. In doing so, it calls in many existing eco-design, ‘green claims', Eco-Daisy, Product Footprint and EMAS initiatives and the challenge will be how these are developed.
In terms of proposed legislation, waste still dominates the Package but the targets are more balanced and considered. At 75 per cent packaging recycling levels, here in the UK, you're starting to reach a tipping point where resource savings are eaten-up by the additional energy required in collection and processing. It's important that resource efficiency (not just collecting materials) is at the heart of the Circular Economy.In many ways, it's the shorter sections of the Package that have the potential to be the most powerful. Building sustainability criteria into public procurement could be hugely powerful. We know from our own experience at M&S that you can still be price competitive but that if you keep asking the right questions, innovative suppliers will respond. Similarly, on food waste there's promise of actions to assist reduction and re-use but no detail.
The second version is much improved. But whether or not this package will ultimately be successful in driving greater competitiveness and resource efficiency in Europe will depend on the detail of some of the Commission's important but high level proposals. Of particular importance will be measures on public procurement policy and the introduction of eco-design standards to facilitate resource efficiency, including the recycling and re-use of secondary materials.
The Commission is off to a decent start but it must now follow through with the detail and work with progressive businesses to make this package a success.
Rowland Hill is the Corporate Sustainability Manager for M&S.