On March 11, 2020, the European Commission (EC) announced the adoption of a new Circular Economy Action Plan. The plan is described as being one of the main components of the European Green Deal, which was announced in December 2019 (FPF reported). It is set to include “initiatives along the entire life cycle of products, targeting for example their design, promoting circular economy processes, fostering sustainable consumption, and aiming to ensure that the resources used are kept in the EU economy for as long as possible.” The plan specifically highlights packaging as a key theme, with aims to reduce (over)packaging and packaging waste through target setting, promote packaging designed for re-use and recyclability, and reduce the complexity of packaging materials. It further says that the EC will establish rules for recycling non-PET plastics for use as food contact materials (FCMs). It also aims to reduce the dependence on bottled water by monitoring and supporting the implementation of the requirements in the EU Drinking Water Directive.

Specifically, for plastics, the action plan sets out to propose mandatory requirements for recycled content in plastics and measures to reduce waste. It also has a number of goals to restrict the intentional use of microplastics, develop regulatory measures for unintentional releases of microplastics, and harmonize methods to measure their release and close gaps related to their risk and occurrence. Bio-based plastics are also included in the plan, and the EC wants to better assess their environmental impacts beyond just the reduction of fossil fuel use, and to better label biodegradable and compostable plastics to avoid improper end-of-life handling. The EC is also committed to implementing the new single-use plastics directive in a timely manner.

The action plan also specifically addresses hazardous chemicals in the circular economy with the aim of enhancing circularity in a toxic-free environment. The Commission wants to encourage a shift to the use of chemicals that are “safe-by-design” through the substitution of hazardous substances. For recycled materials, the action plan aims to develop methodologies to minimize problematic substances in recycled materials and articles made from them, as well as to harmonize systems to track and manage information on and the presence of these substances in waste. The EC wrote that a Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability is in development that will “further address the interface between chemicals, products and waste legislation and strengthen synergies with the circular economy.”

Along with the initial communication about the plan, the EC also published a table outlining timelines for implementing various frameworks related to these goals. These include the following:

  • A “review to reinforce the essential requirements for packaging and reduce (over)packaging and packaging waste” by 2021
  • “Mandatory requirements on recycled plastic content and plastic waste reduction measures for key products such as packaging” by 2021/2022
  • “Measures on unintentional release of microplastics” by 2021
  • An “initiative to substitute single-use packaging, tableware and cutlery by reusable products in food services” by 2021
  • An “EU-wide harmonized model for separate collection of waste and labelling to facilitate separate collection” by 2022
  • “Methodologies to track and minimize the presence of substances of concern in recycled materials and articles made thereof” by 2021
  • “Harmonized information systems for the presence of substances of concern” by 2021
  • “Leading efforts towards reaching a global agreement on plastics” as of 2020

A staff working document on the plan was also published summarizing the current state of related issues and an outlook on actions that can be taken by different actors.

Read more

EC (March 11, 2020). “EU Circular Economy Action Plan.”

EC (March 11, 2020). “Communication: A new Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe.” (pdf)

EC (March 11, 2020). “Implementation tracking table.” (pdf)

EC (March 11, 2020). “Changing how we produce and consume: New Circular Economy Action Plan shows the way to a climate-neutral, competitive economy of empowered consumers.”

EC (March 11, 2020). “Press statement by Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius on the new Circular Economy Action Plan.”

EC (March 11, 2020). “Questions and Answers: A New Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe.”

European Environmental Bureau (March 11, 2020). “EU to take unprecedented steps against ‘throwaway economy’.”

Euractiv (March 11, 2020). “EU unveils circular economy plan 2.0, drawing mixed reactions.”

Clelia Oziel (March 12, 2020). “European Commission commits to non-toxic recycled material measures.” Chemical Watch

Karen Laird (March 12, 2020). “EC’s new Circular Economy Action Plan aims to make sustainable products the norm.” Sustainable Plastics

Karen Laird (March 13, 2020). “Organisations welcome new Circular Economy Action Plan 2.0.” Sustainable Plastics

Cefic (March 13, 2020). “The chemical industry provides the wheels for a circular economy: Cefic statement on the publication of the EU Circular Economy Action Plan.”

European Bioplastics (March 13, 2020). “New Circular Economy Action Plan: no circular economy without bioeconomy.”

Gerardo Fortuna (March 12, 2020). “No needless overlap between F2F and circular economy plans, Sinkevicius says.” Euractiv

Theresa Kjell (March 18, 2020). “Circular Economy Action Plan falls short of its target.” ChemSec

European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform (April 3, 2020). “ECESP Coordination Group shares its views on the new CEAP.”

IISD (May 28, 2020). “European Commission Adopts Circular Economy Action Plan.”