In March 2020, the European Commission adopted the new circular economy action plan: the European Parliament demanded binding objectives for 2030 to make consumer goods more sustainable from design onwards.

In March 2020, the European Commission adopted a new circular economy action plan for a cleaner and more competitive Europe. In October 2020, the European Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) held a debate, and the definitive report was adopted on 27 January 2021.
The circular economy action plan, an integral part of the European Green Deal, sets out the concept of circularity as the basis to meet the EU objective of climate neutrality by 2050, specifying a series of measures related to the whole life cycle of products useful to meet this objective. The plan includes rules to design products with a greater use of recycled raw materials, and longer-lasting products that are easier to re-use, repair and recycle.

The provisions of the plan in a nutshell

The new circular economy action plan presents measures to:
  • Make products sustainable;
  • Empower consumers and public buyers;
  • Focus on sectors that use more resources with a high circularity potential, such as: electronics and ICT; batteries and vehicles; packaging; plastics; textiles; construction and buildings; food; water and nutrients;
  • Ensure the production of less waste;
  • Ensure that “circularity” is a basic concept for territorial management (regions and cities);
  • Guide global policy commitments towards circular economy concepts.

Plan objectives

The objectives are therefore, on the one hand, to avoid waste completely and transform it into high-quality secondary resources; on the other, to act in advance to prevent non-sustainable products from entering the European market. 
From their design, goods will have to be designed to last for longer, be easier to re-use, repair and recycle, and incorporate as much recycled material (as opposed to primary raw materials) as possible. 
Single-use items will be limited, “planned obsolescence” and the destruction of unsold consumer goods will be banned.
Action “in advance” concerns consumers, who will have access to trustworthy information on products’ lifespan and possibility of repair, introducing a real “right to repair”. 
The plan focuses on sectors that use more resources and have great circular potential, such as: electronics and ICT, batteries and vehicles, packaging, plastics, textiles, construction and buildings, and the food sector.
The plan’s objectives also include to reduce waste: to avoid waste completely and transform it into high-quality secondary materials that benefit from a well-functioning market for secondary raw materials.
The Commission will propose a harmonised model at EU level for separate waste collection and labelling. The action plan also proposes a series of measures to reduce EU waste exports to a minimum and to tackle the problem of illegal shipments. 
On 10 November 2020, the European Commission also adopted a Proposal for a Regulation to update EU legislation on batteries. The objective is to ensure batteries issued on the EU market are sustainable, circular, high-performance and safe for their entire life cycle, and are collected, re-used and recycled, becoming a real source of precious raw materials.

The European Parliament’s demands

On 10 February 2021, the European Parliament adopted the European Parliament Resolution on the new circular economy plan (2020/2077(INI)),  updating a series of recommendations, including:
  • binding, science-based targets for 2030 to set out a road map for the use of materials and the consumption footprint;
  • introduction in 2021 of harmonised circularity indicators that are comparable and uniform;
  • definition of binding targets on the "ecological footprint " of materials and consumption for the whole product life cycle for every product category launched on the EU market, to avoid waste and reduce the use of resources and energy;
  • introduction of measures to counter greenwashing and false environmental statements, as well as legislative measures to end practices involving the planned obsolescence of products;
  • support of the EU Ecolabel as a benchmark for environmental sustainability;
  • strengthening of the role of green public tenders, establishing obligatory minimum criteria and targets;
  • integration of circular economy principles into member states’ national recovery plans.
During the debate, MEPs stressed that meeting Green Deal targets will only be possible if the EU implements a circular economy model, and this change creates new job opportunities.

Further reading