Achieving The Circular Economy

The Commission’s revised strategy to transition the EU’s economy from a wasteful linear model to one that produces virtually no waste and recycles products and materials – the so-called circular economy – was launched on 2 December 2015.

The new package consists of a Communication entitled ‘Closing the Loop - An EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy’, which sets out the strategy in full. This is accompanied by a series of proposals for Directives amending waste targets, targets on the landfilling of waste, and on electrical and electronic waste (these proposals are linked below).

The Commission argues that by maintaining the value of products and materials through reuse and recycling and reducing waste, Europe’s economy can become more competitive and resilient, while at the same time relieving pressure on precious resources and the environment.

The package of measures replaces a similar package of measures presented by the Barosso Commission in July 2014, but withdrawn by the Juncker Commission early in 2015.

The Circular Economy Strategy

A key aim of the strategy is to improve the sustainability of all phases in a product’s life-cycle.

The Production Phase

The Commission wants to improve the design and production of products in order to achieve better resource efficiency and to reduce waste. Product design should focus not only on energy efficiency, but also on the reparability, upgradability, durability and recyclability of products and materials. This will make products more durable, and make it easier to recover components and materials after a product’s natural life cycle.

The Commission therefore plans to provide economic incentives for producers to make products that are in line with the circular economy principle, and to financially disincentivise those that do not.

The Consumption Phase

The Commission also wants to improve the consumption phase by helping consumers choose environment friendly products and services. This will prevent and reduce the amount of household waste generated.

The Commission wants to better inform consumers about products, make green claims more trustworthy, tackle unfair commercial practices and enhance the effectiveness of the EU Ecolabel. It also wants to promote new models of consumption through the collaborative economy and various digital platforms.

In addition, the Commission wants EU institutions and public authorities to set a good example through public procurement practices that are in line with the principles of the circular economy.

Waste Management

The Commission wants to improve the management of waste, guided by its ‘waste hierarchy’ principle. This provides a waste management priority list, starting with preventing waste, followed by preparing for reuse, recycling and energy recovery, before finally as a last resort: disposal.

Central to this phase are new proposals on waste and packaging waste, in which the Commission aims to promote the recycling of municipal and packaging waste.

In addition, the announcement of a ‘waste to energy’ initiative is exemplar for the Commission’s vision that recovering energy via incineration is preferred over landfill – the latter being something that the Commission aims to reduce and, wherever possible, prevent.

From Waste to Resources

The Commission intends to promote the recycling of materials into secondary raw materials and to develop an EU market for these, with the aim of achieving energy recovery and keeping landfill waste to a minimum.

Currently, the trade and use of secondary raw materials is hampered by uncertainty over quality. Therefore, the Commission plans to develop EU-wide quality standards, and plans to undertake similar actions regarding waste from organic material. The Commission also intends to combat water scarcity, and therefore wants to promote the reuse of treated wastewater.
At the same time, the Commission recognises that chemical substances that pose a health threat can enter the recycling stream via discarded products and materials. To combat this, the Commission plans to reduce the presence and improve the tracking of those chemicals in products.

Priority Areas

The Commission also wants to focus on specific sectors that require special attention in the context of the circular economy. These sectors include plastics, food waste, critical raw materials, construction and demolition, and biomass and bio-based materials.

Implementing the Strategy

In order to implement the Commission’s vision, the circular economy package includes four revised proposals for amendments to the EU’s waste legislation, and a list of actions mentioned in the Communication. This section provides a short description of each of the revised proposals, followed by an overview of the most important actions for each phase and priority sector.

The Proposed Directives

With the four proposals, the Commission aims at improving waste management in order to protect, preserve and improve the quality of the environment and human health, and to ensure careful and rational use of natural resources. In addition, the proposals also aim to create greater coherence with regards to definitions used in waste legislation.

The Proposed Directive on Waste amends the waste targets in the Waste Framework Directive. It specifically aims at harmonising the waste targets for preparing for reuse and recycling. In order to improve resource efficiency and reduce environmental impact, the proposal focuses mainly on waste prevention. The target for the recycling of municipal waste is set by this proposal at a minimum of 65 % by 2030.

The Proposed Directive on Packaging Waste amends waste targets in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive. The target for the recycling of all packaging waste is set by this proposal at a minimum of 75 %. The proposal also sets separate recycling targets for the different packaging materials.

The Proposed Directive on Landfill amends waste targets of the Landfill Waste Directive. Most importantly, this proposal sets a requirement for Member States that by 2030 the amount of municipal waste landfilled is reduced to 10 % of the total amount of municipal waste generated.

The Proposed Directive on Electrical and Electronic Waste amends Directives related to waste of electrical and electronic equipment, batteries and accumulators, and end-of-life vehicles. This proposal plans to introduce reporting requirements for Member States on the implementations of these Directives, with national reports having to comply with a format determined by the Commission.

The Commission’s Future Plans

The Commission has listed numerous actions in the Communication that accompanies the Circular Economy Package, related to a specific phase or priority area of the circular economy.

Production: The Commission plans to come forward with the Eco-design work plan 2015-2017, and request European standardisation organisations to develop standards on material efficiency for the setting of future Eco-design requirements on durability, reparability and recyclability.

Consumption: From 2015 to 2017, the Commission wants a better enforcement of existing guarantees on tangible products, and a reflection on improvements with regards to the upcoming Commission proposal for online sales of goods, and the fitness check of consumer legislation.

Waste management: From 2015 onwards, the Commission wants to improve the cooperation with Member States for better implementation of EU waste legislation, and to combat the shipment of end of life vehicles.

Priority actions: The Commission plans to come forward with actions to reduce marine litter of plastics.


Production: The Commission wants to start emphasising the circular economy aspects in future product requirements under the Eco-design Directive, and add guidance on the circular economy in the Best Available Techniques references documents (BREFs) for several industrial sectors.

Consumption: The Commission plans to undertake action against false green claims, including updated guidance on unfair commercial practices. It also plans a refit of Ecolabel. From 2016 onwards, the Commission intends to explore the use of product environmental footprints, and to take action on green public procurement.

Waste Management: The Commission plans to come forward with an initiative on waste to energy. From 2016 onwards, it also plans to step up its enforcement of the revised Waste Shipment Regulation, and to identify and promote good practices in waste collection systems.

From waste to resources: In early 2016, the Commission intends to come forward with a proposal for a Revised Fertilisers Regulation. From 2016 onwards, the Commission wants to develop quality standards for secondary raw materials, facilitate waste shipment through measures (including electronic data exchange) and to further develop the EU raw materials information system. In 2016 and 2017, the Commission wants to promote the reuse of water, including guidance, BREFs and investments.

Priority Areas: The Commission wants to develop a common methodology to measure food waste, create a stakeholder platform on that issue and clarify related EU legislation in order to facilitate food donation and usage as animal feed.

From 2016 onwards, the Commission wants to come forward with European standards for the recycling of electronic & batteries waste and other end-of-life products and improve the exchange of information between manufacturers and recyclers. It also wants to assess the 2012 Bio-economy Strategy’s contribution to the circular economy and will consider updating it if necessary.


From waste to resources: The Commission plans to come forward with legislation that sets minimum requirements for reused water for irrigation and groundwater recharge. In addition, the Commission intends to analyse and propose actions on the interface between chemicals, products, and waste legislation, which should include actions on how to reduce the presence and tracking of chemicals of concern for the environment and health.

Priority Areas: The Commission intends to come forward with a strategy on plastics in the Circular Economy. It also plans to examine how to improve the use of date marking on food, and its understanding by consumers.

In addition, the Commission wants to publish a report on critical raw materials, including best practices - especially with regards to the recovery of critical raw materials from mining waste and landfills. As for the construction and demolition sectors, the Commission intends to present pre-demolition guidelines and core indicators to assess a building’s environmental performance throughout its lifecycle.

In addition, the Commission also plans to develop a monitoring framework for the circular economy in 2017.


Production: The Commission intends to come forward with guidance and the promotion of best practices in the mining waste management.

Consumption: The Commission wants to analyse the possibility of requirements on repair information provision and spare parts of products in the context of Eco-design.

Waste Management: The Commission plans to promote an industry-led and voluntary certification of treatment facilities for waste and recycle streams.

Priority Areas: In 2018 and 2019, the Commission intends to provide guidance on and promote best practices related to the use of biomass, and support it through Horizon 2020.

Innovation and Investment

In addition to the aforementioned plans, the Commission intends to come forward with contributions to innovation and investment, with the aim of creating the conditions necessary to let the circular economy develop successfully.

The Commission has already come forward with the ‘Industry 2020 in the Circular Economy’ initiative in the Horizon 2020 work programme for 2016-2017, with which it intends to grant over EUR 650 million for projects that support the circular economy’s objectives.

In 2016, the Commission plans to come forward with a pilot project to identify and address potential regulatory obstacles for innovators. It also intends to evaluate whether a platform should be launched together with the European Investment Bank and national banks to support the financing.

From 2016 onwards, the Commission wants to support investment in circular economy projects by promoting the use of already existing EU funds and funding programmes such as the Cohesion Policy, LIFE, COSME and EFSI. In addition, it also intends to support Member States and regions through the Smart Specialisation Platform, and wants to engage with all stakeholders in order to mobilise them with regards to the implementation of the circular economy.

Next Steps

The Communication has been sent to the European Parliament and the Council for examination. These institutions will now decide whether or not to officially respond to it. The proposals for the four Directives have been sent to the European Parliament and to the Council and will be adopted through the ‘ordinary’ legislative procedure.

In parallel, the Commission aims to launch the other actions and initiatives mentioned in the Circular Economy Communication, as set out above, over the course of the next three to four years.