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EU Launches Roadmap for New Action Plan on Circular Economy and Invites Comments from Industry

The European Commission has launched a consultation on the New Circular Economy Action Plan. It will be open to anyone affected by the proposed action plan to submit comments until 20 January 2020. The action plan – as part of the European Commission’s core policy, the European Green Deal – is aimed at accelerating the transition towards a circular economy and will be adopted alongside the EU Industrial Strategy to encourage greater sustainability throughout the value chain of products. Businesses from Hong Kong and mainland China may like to know that this refers, in particular, to the setting of sustainable product standards, the empowerment of consumers to make more sustainable choices, and waste regulation.

In its Communication on the European Green Deal the European Commission sets out its intention to adopt a New Action Plan on the Circular Economy. The first step to do so is the holding of a consultation with stakeholders. The roadmap defines the scope of the action plan by describing its broader context, the problems which the initiative aims to tackle and how this will be achieved.

The protection of the environment is an EU-wide issue given its effects across borders and thus merits concerted action at EU level. This will prevent divergent regulation in individual Member States as well as ensure that new measures tie in with other EU rules, including on chemicals and consumer protection.

Hong Kong manufacturers may wish to note that the Commission lists certain high-impact industries on which it will focus, namely the textiles, construction, electronics and plastics sectors. With regard to the latter, EU initiatives will focus on micro-plastics, requirements that all packaging must be reusable or recyclable, measures on single use plastics and a regulatory framework for bio-based and biodegradable plastics.

Further, the empowerment of consumers to play their part in the transition will be a priority. Hong Kong sellers may be aware that EU citizens are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about the environmental impact of goods they buy and aim to make choices accordingly. The roadmap points out that consumers do not yet have the instruments to choose products with a longer lifespan which are durable, reusable, and reparable. The European Commission thus intends to make reliable, verifiable and comparable information on product sustainability available, while taking measures against misleading green claims. There will also be a need to assess a “right to repair” requirement, as well as the taking of measures to limit built-in lifespan limitations in electronics.

The high (and increasing) level of waste generation is raised as one of the main problems to be addressed by the action plan. The roadmap highlights that only 12% of the EU’s demand for materials is met by recycled materials. It warns that supply constraints and fluctuating prices constitute a strategic security challenge for the EU. Unsustainable and inefficient use which does not live up to the materials’ potential, leads to a loss of economic value and adds to the environmental impact as goods are replaced more often than necessary. Linked to this is the need for expansion of the market for secondary raw materials which often fail to be competitive due to their price or safety and quality concerns. Information on the presence or not of certain substances in products and waste is key to making recycling attractive.

A series of initiatives targeting different stages throughout the lifecycle of products are envisaged, especially with regard to the resource-intensive sectors mentioned above. The action plan will set out a sustainable products policy to encourage the design, production and marketing of sustainable products. This will encompass minimum sustainability standards to prevent environmentally harmful products from being placed on the EU market and tools for industry to manage their supply chains.

The action plan will, moreover, provide measures for the reduction of waste, modernise the current waste laws, and increase the amount of waste treated domestically through high quality recycling installations, entailing the revision of the waste shipment regulation. The internal market for secondary raw materials will likewise be developed to ensure safety, competitive prices and reliability. The roadmap also notes that the transition to a circular economy requires measures to provide that socio-economic and geographic consequences are given due consideration to ensure no one is left behind. It must also secure investment which supports the development and use of new technologies and infrastructure.

With this action plan, the EU aims to reinforce its leading role in environmental protection on a global level and envisages cooperation with partners around the world. The New Circular Economy Action Plan will follow on from several other initiatives – notably the Action Plan for the Circular Economy adopted in 2015 – and consultations, but it is not itself accompanied by an impact assessment. Stakeholders are thus invited to provide feedback on the roadmap to make the Commission aware of their concerns. So far several comments (including from citizens, businesses and NGOs) have already been published on the official page. These are overwhelmingly in support of the adoption of new measures to promote sustainability. The feedback will be considered in the further development and drafting of the action plan and suggestions may be taken up where appropriate.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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