WRAP’s response to the European Commission’s Circular Economy package

Dr Liz Goodwin

This was the week that the European Commission unveiled the long awaited Circular Economy Package. In the Commission’s own words, the package is an opportunity to “stimulate Europe's transition towards a circular economy which will boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs.”

I can’t argue with that sentiment, our own work shows the huge potential for the EU to benefit through a move from the make, use, throw away consumption model, to one that is circular, and values materials so they are kept in use for longer and then recycled at end of life.

After all, they say good things come to those who wait. So has the wait been worth it and do we have a more ambitious package, as the Commission promised a year ago? From public responses so far it is clear that opinion is divided.

For WRAP’s part, I would say that there is reason to be cautiously optimistic.

The priorities we outlined in our submission to the public consultation on the revised package were the need for an EU Vision, based on whole-systems thinking; EU-wide action on food, including food waste; and action to encourage greater use of resource efficient business models.

We were looking for a vision of what Europe could be like by 2025 if ambitious action is taken to create a more circular economy across the EU. Although such a vision is not explicitly set out in any detail the Commission’s Action Plan, I was pleased to see that the two responsible Commission Vice-Presidents, Frans Timmermans and Jyrki Katainen, are clearly motivated by long-term thinking about the future of Europe.

Some I know will be disappointed that there is no legislative food waste targets for each EU Member State, though there is a shared goal of halving food waste by 2030.  I believe that well designed and well run voluntary agreements are a powerful and effective vehicle to help deliver this goal.

Crucially though, our experience shows us that the causes of food waste differ depending on the fabric of a nation, its economic model and cultural set-up. So to understand how to tackle food waste most effectively in each Member State is to understand where, why and how it occurs. So robust measurement is needed to establish a baseline to work against, like we first identified for the UK through our household food and drink waste reports.

I therefore welcome the Commission’s acknowledgment of the need for common measurement methodologies, which is in line with our own consultation submission.

Finally, where I am most encouraged by the package is the Commission’s action to put resource efficiency, and in particular the issues of reparability, durability and recyclability, into the Ecodesign Directive. As leader of the Life+ REBus project, WRAP has led the way in working with major businesses to implement resource efficient business models. This work has led to the rolling out of an innovative Gadget Trade-in service from Argos – testament to the value placed on the environmental and economic benefits of resource efficient business models.

In July, in my speech at the APSRG’s event on The EU Circular Economy Package, I said that the European Commission should use the circular economy package to set the direction and vision for Europe for the next decade. Whether it has done that with this revised package remains to be seen, but let’s also be clear that whilst it is an important framework, it is not and should not be the panacea. If we want to maximise opportunities for a circular economy then we all have a role to play: governments, industry and businesses.

We have the collective expertise to make it happen, so together let’s seize the moment.