Circular Economy Package: Going for the Full Circle – by Ida Auken

The Circular Economy package is out. Pat yourselves on the back NGOs, businesses, MEPs and others who fought for the level of ambition in this package. True – some recycling targets are slightly lower than in the previous version, but the landfill rate is down to 10% from 25%, and is now legally binding… Furthermore the action plan aims to reduce the amount of waste, and the previous plan did not say anything about that. And overall, this package covers a more full circle approach and, importantly, the political ownership of the circular economy agenda is much more anchored in the top of the EU Commission than it has ever been. Therefore we have not wasted the last year. We have built momentum, and we should be proud of it. It was important to get the right people on board to push this agenda and convice many more that circular economy is not only good for the environment but also for jobs, innovation and growth.

During the process we have gone through last year, The EU Commission has really felt the support for making circular economy a priority in the EU – and the heat they would get if they lowered the ambitions dramatically. This has been important. It might not be much comfort for those who supported the old package, but I can guarantee you that this package could have been much worse. Had the first rumors about it been true, we could have been without binding targets on waste and landfill. Therefore, I am actually relieved. I understand lowering of certain targets naturally leeds to critique from greens all over, but let’s not lose sight of the big picture and acknowledge that the upstream dimension is much more taken into account – this will naturally have positive impact, and lower the need for end of pipe measures… So once the first burst of anger has dissipated, we should get to the understanding that we need to work together on this. We need to make sure that the circular economy moves forward in the EU and all it’s member states.

I therefore urge you to start fighting for turning the words in to action everywhere you can. Get young people to study circular economy. Tell companies about all the opportunities they have. Work with the Commission on making the full circle approach a reality. Let’s move forward on creating a market for secondary materials and for organic fertilisers. Let’s ensure that we get a new circular approach to product policy, as the package suggests. If we think about it and listen to one of the founders of the circular economy, Bill McDonough (Cradle2Cradle), we see that we still have plenty of room for improving things with this package. He would tell us that quality in recycling is much more important than quantity. Recycling 70% of the wrong stuff might be “less good” for the environment than recycling 65% of the right things. The waste hierarchy is still in place, REACH is still there. And the package has a focus on ensuring upstream guidance. Let’s make sure that the new waste targets are met with real quality recycling and let’s go for the full circle.

Lead image: infomastern / Flickr CC by 2.0

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The Author

Ida Auken

Ida Auken

Ida Auken is the Former Minister for the Environment in Denmark (2011-2014). She is member of the Danish Parliament for The Social Liberal Party and is her party’s spokesperson for Business and Environment. Ida Auken was as the first Danish politician chosen to be a Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum and has also been elected to be one out of the 40 most promising young leaders under 40 in Europe. She has been a blogger for The Guardian, Huffington Post and World Economic Forum and despite her young age she has been active in the global debate about business and the environment for several years.