The COVID-19 crisis has created the conditions for circular products and services to become the norm in Europe, says the EESC. In a recent opinion on the new EU Circular Economy Action Plan, the EESC urges lawmakers to ensure the circular economy finds a place and resources in the overall "greenprint" for Europe's recovery.
The COVID-19 crisis can be a great opportunity to start up again with new impetus for sustainable development, says Antonello Pezzini, rapporteur for the EESC opinion on the new EU Circular Economy Action Plan, adopted at the July plenary session.
The vision of circular products and services becoming the norm, which was behind the plan put forward by the European Commission back in March as COVID-19 was looming, is becoming more tangible as the crisis unfolds.
With the new Action Plan, the circular economy can really become a pillar of the Green New Deal, says the rapporteur.
The Action Plan takes in much of the advice already pioneered by the EESC in its 2016 opinion on the first Circular Economy Package, particularly in areas such as eco-design, reparability, premature obsolescence and secondary raw materials, and as such is very welcome. However, broader measures will also be needed, in the EESC's view.
The soft side of the Circular Economy
A real circular economy culture needs to be nourished, argues the EESC. Taxation should shift from labour to resources and imported products that flout circular economy principles. Wealth should be measured through criteria which go beyond GDP.
The current systems used to calculate GDP (based on either expenditure, production or income) are an expression of the old "take-make-use-dispose" mentality. The EESC suggests using new elements other than economic performance, such as:
- creating solidarity-based systems for an inclusive society;
- living within the limits of our planet; and
- a fair distribution of resources.
Softer aspects such as education will be key to fostering the new mindset and encouraging people to change their daily habits and behaviour, in the EESC's view.
Advertising should also be encouraged to move away from consumerism and present long-lasting, reusable goods as being of value to the consumer and society, urges the EESC.
The future of the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform
The European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, which was set up jointly by the EESC and the previous European Commission, could support many of the actions outlined in the new Action Plan.
The Platform is an inter-institutional initiative, launched by the EESC and the Commission in 2017. This three-year period has seen three well-attended joint annual conferences, a Coordination Group that has delivered 50 initiatives, and a website that has received over 230 000 visitors, brought together over 350 Good Practices, 33 Strategies and a Knowledge Hub with more than 200 publications. The Platform has an active presence on social media with over 2 400 Twitter followers, and has recently established a presence on LinkedIn.
The Platform, which is intended to encourage the exchange of circular economy knowledge and know-how, should therefore continue under the new Plan and become the go-to resource for circular economy players in Europe, urges the EESC. It has, in fact, just published a Call for Expression of Interest for a Coordination Group for the new mandate starting in Autumn 2020.
The Circular Economy Platform has been at the forefront of circular economy implementation and policy design across the EU. It has taken on a very strong leadership role in this area says opinion co-rapporteur Cillian Lohan.
We are confident that it will continue to serve a very useful purpose in the future.
The new Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) proposed by the European Commission in March 2020 sets out a series of new initiatives covering the entire cycle of product design and lifespan to enable both individuals and businesses to play a role in the circular economy.
The plan includes some 35 measures over a three-year period (mid-2020 to mid-2023) to:
- make sustainable products the norm in the EU;
- empower consumers with access to reliable information and a true "right to repair";
- focus on the sectors that use the most resources and where the potential for circularity is high, such as electronics and ICT, batteries and vehicles, packaging, plastics, textiles, construction and buildings, waste.
Currently, only 8.6% of global activities operate on circular principles.
According the World Economic Forum, in 2019, over 92 billion tonnes of materials were extracted and processed, contributing to about half of global CO2 emissions. UNDP says resource extraction and processing accounts for more than 90% of global biodiversity loss.
Businesses and consumers are increasingly recognising the damage caused by linear economic models, which rely heavily on resource consumption and involve the use of premature obsolescence techniques, encouraging people to constantly buy new products.