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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

We need a revolution

WRAP annual conference 2013 - Vision 2020: the path to a circular economy

London, 7 November 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to address you today with this brief message from Brussels. Massive global pressures on demand for materials, rising costs, Europe’s import dependency, and the environmental impact of our use of materials call for nothing short of a revolution in our mind-sets and behaviour towards a resource efficient circular economy and society. An economy based on virtuous cycles, that promotes re-use, repair, and recyclability; and where one industry's waste becomes another's raw material.

WRAP has been leading the way in this direction. Supporting businesses, local authorities, communities and individuals across the UK and helping them seize the opportunities of moving towards a circular economy. Your contribution is most valuable. Not only for the UK but it serves as an example across the entire European Union.

This year’s conference focuses on the important role of companies, sharing the experience of market-leading companies are already taking on the path to circular economy and leading the way.

It is pretty obvious that the private sector must be at the centre of any transition to a resource efficient and circular economy. It is companies’ creativity and innovation that determine what technologies and systems we will use tomorrow; companies’ product design choices that determine the features of products.

But much depends on us, policymakers, too. We must create the right framework conditions and confidence to drive investment in the right direction. We must make sustainability profitable and reward the front-runners in the marketplace. And this is the direction we have been working in.

EU legislation has already driven the beginning of a revolution in European waste management. We are composting and recycling more than ever, and landfill is progressively falling – but of course some Member States are far ahead of others in this.

Our ambition is to accelerate that move up the waste hierarchy. In the Resource Efficiency Roadmap and the 7th Environmental Action Programme we set our aspirational objectives to be achieved by 2020:

  1. To reduce waste generated per person;

  2. To maximise recycling and re-use;

  3. To limit incineration to non-recyclable materials;

  4. and, last but not least, to phase out landfilling.

This sounds very ambitious, but it is also very realistic. Already today 6 EU Member States are landfilling less than 5 % of the waste they generate. And 4 Member States are already recycling over 60 % of municipal waste. Much has been achieved through the use of economic incentives such as pay-as-you-throw, or landfill taxes, which have nudged that change in behaviour.

And this week I am pleased to say that we have adopted a proposal aimed at achieving a reduction of 80 % in lightweight plastic bag use in the European Union by calling on Member States to follow the example of those who have already achieved this feat, and by making possible national bans on their marketing.

Next year we will present a review of the Commission's waste policies and targets. My broad objective is to open up more opportunities in the sector and make the important link to the circular economy. That is why I will be including the waste proposals in a much wider package on resource efficiency and the circular economy. It will address all stages in the cycles of our products: from design to manufacture, and on to use and disposal. This will draw inspiration from the recommendations made by the European Resource Efficiency Platform, and it will set out what still needs to be done by all different stakeholders, not only the Commission, but the Member States, regions, the private sector and financial bodies.

Also next year I will deliver two important communications focusing on sustainable food and sustainable buildings. Two areas where the impact of our resource use and waste is particularly great, and two areas where I know WRAP has a strong record.

The Commission is already making use of a wider array of instruments than only waste legislation to drive towards a circular economy, for example:

  1. We are using the Eco-design Directive to ensure that products are designed to be durable and repairable, and to ensure that when they reach the end of their useful lives they can be easily dismantled and recycled.

  2. We are developing product environmental footprinting for several product groups, to encourage companies to measure and improve the life cycle performance of their products and to provide comparable, credible life-cycle analyses to inform consumer choices.

  3. We are using economic instruments to promote resource efficiency so that we get the price of resources right, taking into account the true cost of their use and their environmental impacts.

  4. We are expanding and clarifying the concept of producer responsibility.

  5. We are developing further End-of-Waste criteria in order to boost confidence in recycled materials.

  6. And we are encouraging industrial symbiosis systems to facilitate trading in by-products and waste along the lines successfully demonstrated by the UK’s National Industrial Symbiosis Programme.

I look forward to working with WRAP and other UK companies and organisations in making all of this happen.

But one question remains “How can we incentivise product design to take into account future re-use, repair, and recyclability?” Is legislation alone sufficient?

Thank you for your attention.

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