The EESC has supported the Commission's policy on the circular economy from the outset, but feels that it should be pursued in close collaboration with the social partners and civil society organisations by means of forward planning exercises, and with the involvement of institutions of higher education and the various training centres.
The EESC considers that for both economic and health and safety reasons, an industry strategy geared towards reuse must be developed, particularly in the now vast packaging industry. This strategy should involve businesses with experience in recycling processes and should aim to harmonise and engineer skills, both upstream and downstream. In particular, acting in close cooperation with European and international bodies, national standardisation bodies should step up the process of using labelling to recognise secondary raw materials. European standardisation here will improve consumer safety when it comes to new products.
The EESC feels that research and innovation should play a key role, particularly the Joint Technology Initiative on Institutional public-private partnerships under Horizon 2020 focusing on developing bio-based products and other initiatives promoting a circular and sustainable approach under the next Framework Programme 9.
Priority must be given to the process of digitally labelling the various types of plastics for the purpose of identification, separation and possibly elimination using common methodologies. It is particularly important to ensure that these secondary raw materials contain none of the toxic substances which appear in raw materials not intended for use with food or in children's toys. In particular, the EESC considers that action must be taken by means of chemical analyses conducted under the REACH programme to curb microplastic pollution, one of the biggest dangers to the environment and human health.
The EESC firmly supports the Commission's proposals to equip ports with facilities for the collection of waste and the requirements imposed on ship owners to comply with waste disposal procedures. A similar policy should also be applied to rivers, which collect much of the pollution in the seas. The EESC considers that fishing associations and the social partners should be involved, both culturally and through national and/or European funds, in cleaning up polymer residue from seas and rivers and in raising awareness about river and marine waste. When properly trained, they could also participate in the part of the industry active in ports and along the rivers during the initial stages of recycling, particularly when the fishing season is closed to allow fish to reproduce.