David Martin MEP

Labour Member of the European Parliament and one of the six MEPs representing Scotland in Brussels and Strasbourg

A Circular Economy

The Caithness Courier, January 2016

At Christmas many Caithness Courier readers may have been lucky enough to have received a useful and practical gift like a new phone, a hairdryer or even the latest state of the art television. New appliances usually mean that old items will be discarded; we have become used to replacing a product if it is faulty or if something more advanced has come along. Less and less do we consider repairing a broken household appliance rather than replacing it.

The average European consumes 14 tonnes of raw materials and generates five tonnes of waste a year. These figures are alarming, especially considering our limited resources, so MEPs have debated a proposal by the European Commission aiming to create what they are calling a ‘circular economy’.

The purpose of a circular economy would be to extend the life-cycle of products. This could be for example due to improved durability, more efficient waste management or better design, making them easier to repair, reuse or remanufacture. A circular economy could also involve new business models based on leasing, sharing or selling pre-owned products and be of economic interest to businesses by making the best possible use of their resources. In a circular economy the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible and resources kept within the economy. This can create and secure jobs by promoting innovation as well as providing consumers with more durable and innovative products. The aim will be to tackle all phases in the lifecycle of a product: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials.

Labour MEPs have, in principle, welcomed the Commission’s proposal to start a transition towards a circular economy. We are concerned however that this should not distract from EU targets for waste recycling, reducing food waste and landfill being set too low. A revised proposal on waste has set EU targets for recycling at 65% of municipal waste and 75% of packaging waste by 2030 and reducing landfill’s share to a maximum of 10% of all waste by 2030. We believe binding targets should be higher and set for five years earlier, in 2025. We also believe marine and food waste reduction targets should be included and that collection systems for paper, metal, plastic, glass and compost waste should introduced throughout Europe wherever they are not already present. Every year more than 56 million tonnes of plastic are used in the EU and only 26% of plastic waste is recycled. The rest is burned, ends up on landfills or in the ocean.

Real change will need action on a range of fronts: to promote responsibility among plastics producers, to improve the recyclability of products, to set higher standards for recycling, to change consumers' attitudes and to make recycling easier. With around 600 million tonnes of waste being thrown away in Europe every year it is urgent to stop that trend and start a true transition to a more ethical and efficient production cycle.

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