The European Commission has published a new Action Plan proposing a common strategy for Europe supporting the growth and competitiveness of the circular economy. Under the umbrella of the Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan aims to create new sustainable economic growth while providing solutions to combat climate change and resource scarcity. Key sectors in the new plan include construction and demolition, food, textiles, transport and electronics.
The treatment of secondary raw materials and the definition of waste in circular economy legislation are among the pressing issues, says Karoliina Rasi, EK’s Brussels office’s Senior Adviser.
“Companies are concerned about the availability of recycled raw materials and the smooth cross-border transportation of the secondary raw materials. The message is clear: recycled raw materials should not be treated as waste as long as they don’t pose a health or safety threat. It is important to agree on clear rules that enable companies to offer circular economy products and services.”
The aim of the Action Plan is also to strengthen the EU’s own capacity to take care of its waste. According to Rasi, the industry is pleased with the proposals and continues to encourage the elimination of regulatory bottlenecks in order to achieve a genuine circular economy business. Innovation must also be further promoted through public procurement and funding, Rasi points out.
Companies are at the forefront of creating business and solutions for the circular economy, says Matti Kahra, EK’s Chief Policy Adviser at its Helsinki office.
“Efficient markets play a key role. Industry requests the EU Commission to provide enabling and encouraging legislation. The current regulatory bottlenecks need to be addressed in order to accelerate the circular economy”, he added.
Longer life cycle for electrical and electronic equipment
At present only around 35% of electronic waste is recycled in the EU. The latest Eurobarometer survey shows that consumer expectations are higher. Up to eight out of ten would be ready to recycle their electrical and electronic equipment. 64% of Europeans would like to use their electronic equipment for more than five years. In addition, eight out of ten Europeans hope that equipment manufacturers will make it easier to repair equipment and obtain spare parts.
According to Karoliina Rasi, Finnish companies have the will to improve the reuse and recycling of electrical and electronic equipment. A demo plant for electrical and electronic equipment (SER), which is unique worldwide, is currently being set up in Finland. There, all SER metals will be recycled for future use.
Lots of potential and regulatory bottlenecks in the textile industry
One of the focus areas of the Actin Plan is the textile sector, which currently recycles only less than 1% of the used textiles globally. The Commission will therefore publish a comprehensive textile strategy after first consulting industry and stakeholders.
Kahra and Rasi strongly believe in the potential of the Finnish textile industry’s circular economy. An example of this is the completely new type of textile recycling facility to be built in Paimio in Finland, where waste textiles can be utilised as a new raw material. Following from this, the formerly untapped textile waste will now create the first industrial-scale aftermarket.
One current regulatory bottleneck for the textile industry is the registration of new fibers. It can take as much as 18-24 months in the EU, compared to 2-6 months in the US. As a result, there is a significant delay in bringing new products to market. If Europe genuinely wants to stay at the forefront of the circular economy, we need to bring new products to the market and scale business as quickly as possible, say Karoliina Rasi and Matti Kahra, speaking on behalf of the Finnish circular economy.