Sustainable growth from the circular economy – Nordic debate in the European Parliament

The circular economy plays a key role in providing solutions to global climate change and resource scarcity. The European Commission is expected to publish a new Circular Economy Action Plan as part of its European Green Deal in spring 2020. The Confederation of Finnish industries find the topic crucial for reaching the ambitious climate and environmental goals and together with its Nordic sister organisations organised a seminar in Brussels.

Key sectors included in the upcoming Action plan are: construction and demolition, food, textiles, transport and electronics. Many companies already have business based on the circular economy, but EU-level regulation is in danger of lacking behind and not being able to respond to industries’ needs fast enough. Unresolved issues include: unhindered cross-border shipments of waste when used as a secondary raw material and the smooth registration of new fibers in the EU textile sector.

The seminar, attended by 80 participants, was hosted by MEPs Henna Virkkunen, Pernille Weiss (DK) and Arba Kokalari (SWE). A representative of the European Commission discussed the circular economy action plan to be published in March. It will be divided into three strategic sections addressing 1) Product Life Cycle 2) Selected Construction, Demolition, Food, Textile, Transport, and Electronics Sectors and 3) Horizontal Challenges such as how the EU can keep the world leadership when it comes to circular economy.

Four Nordic companies presented their businesses and the challenges they still face in the transition to circular economy. A clear regulatory bottleneck for the textile industry for example is the registration of new fibers, which may take 18-24 months in the EU, compared to 2-6 months in the US. As a result, there is a significant delay in bringing the product to market. If Europe genuinely wants to stay at the forefront of the circular economy, new products and business scaling must be introduced as quickly as possible. Companies are also concerned about the availability of recycled raw materials and the smooth cross-border transportation of secondary raw materials. Recycled raw materials should not be treated as waste as long as they do not pose a health or safety hazard. With regard to the battery industry, the EU should set more ambitious recycling targets, develop a strategy on the availability of sustainable raw materials, and be stricter with regard to proper recycling of batteries leaving the EU. There was also a consensus on the need to promote innovation through public procurement and funding.

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