Live from the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) to the Stockholm, Basel and Rotterdam conventions – Geneva
There is a group of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) that it is critical to address to ensure we are moving towards a clean circular economy. Although the EU is continuously setting the tone towards more circularity internally, it has clearly lacked ambition and clarity on the issues at stakes in Geneva this week. This post goes through the details of the negotiations around the global regulation framework of the Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) and outlines the positions the EU must take to safeguard a clean future for the circular economy.
A ban on decaBDE without exemptions
On Tuesday, the listing of decaBDE in Annex A of the Stockholm Convention for an immediate ban was discussed. DecaBDE is a toxic flame retardant which is primarily found in the plastics of electronic devices and in some textiles and upholstery. Most countries supported this ban, but several delegations are asking for exemptions to allow for the continued production and use of this toxic POP in certain sectors. The EU in particular is asking for exemptions in the automotive and aviation sectors, despite leading companies in these sectors having already stated that a complete ban would be feasible in a very short time frame (see our latest policy briefing).
End the recycling exemptions for pentaBDE and octaBDE
On Wednesday, the debate turned to the recycling exemptions for pentaBDE and octaBDE which were adopted at a previous COP until 2030. Pakistan, Gabon and Norway in particular held very strong position to end the recycling exemption immediately, to protect the life and health of millions of kids in the global south contaminated by toys and other products made of recycled plastics containing these substances. Canada strongly opposed the immediate termination of the recycling exemptions. EU did not take a clear stand to support Pakistan, Gabon and Norway’s proposal, which is an endorsement by abstention of Canada’s proposal and an incompatible positioning in the context of the clean circular economy that EU is advocating for within its frontiers.
Impose strong limits on the levels of POPs in waste
Last but not least, an intense debate is currently taking place about the Low POP Content level (The concentration threshold above which wastes are considered POPs waste) of waste containing PBDEs allowed to be exported under the Basel Convention. In the debate, EU’s is defending a weak limit for POPs in waste which can result in toxic waste being exported outside its borders without effective controls, this represents a clear double standard and an irresponsible position.
Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Zero Waste Europe policy officer made an intervention from the conference floor calling on the European delegates to support the immediate end of the recycling exemptions for octaBDE and pentaBDE, and the inclusion of decaBDE in Annex A of the Stockholm conventions which prohibits production, use and recycling of the chemicals, calling for no exemptions to be made
The intervention argued that such a ban was essential to prevent the recycling of waste which contains toxic chemicals at the ‘expense of the health of children or recycling workers in the informal sector or other end users of such products globally’. Recently released reports such as IPEN’s Toxic Toys have shown that the recycling of products containing toxic chemicals such as octaBDE and decaBDE has resulted in toys made from recycled plastics which contain extremely high levels of these toxic POPs.
Delphine went on to say “To achieve a circular economy, we need to close the loop of materials by building trust in a toxic-free secondary material market so that both producers and consumers are willing to use them.” Increasing recycling in Europe is critical to reduce the use of virgin resources, but this aim cannot supercede the rights of children, recycling workers and other end users to a safe and healthy environment. In addition, authorising the inclusion of these banned toxic substances in recycled products seriously threatens the credibility and economic model of the entire recycling industry.
Zero Waste Europe calls on the EU to support international policies which are consistent with a clean and safe circular economy today, and take a clear stand on banning POPs at the source and against recycling exemptions of POPs containing materials.
Geneva: Today, at the Stockholm Convention 8th Conference of the Parties, Chile and Canada surprised delegates by proposing to allow recycling materials containing a toxic flame retardant widely found in electronic waste (e-waste). The proposal violates the Stockholm Convention which explicitly prohibits recycling and reuse of substances on its list.
DecaBDE is used in the plastic casings of electronic products and if it is not removed, it is carried into new products when the plastic is recycled. Toxicity studies indicate potential adverse developmental, neurotoxic, and reproductive effects, and DecaBDE or its degradation products may also act as endocrine disruptors.
Ironically, a new IPEN study1 shows that the toxic recycling policy advocated by these countries widely contaminates children’s products. In fact, in Canada all sampled toys made of recycled plastic contained both OctaBDE and DecaBDE.
“How can these countries advocate a policy that potentially poisons children?”said Pam Miller, IPEN Co-Chair. “Recycling materials that contain toxic chemicals contaminates new products, continues exposure, and undermines the credibility of recycling.”
The treaty’s expert committee has warned against toxic recycling and explicitly recommended to eliminate these substances from the recycling streams “as swiftly as possible” noting that, “Failure to do so will inevitably result in wider human and environmental contamination… and in the loss of the long-term credibility of recycling”
The proposed recycling exemption also is tantamount to legalizing electronic waste (e-waste) dumping in developing countries which is cynically described as “recycling.”
“E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream and now it seems these countries want to make it legal and dump even more,” said Tadesse Amera, PAN Ethiopia. “OECD countries already sends us lots of e-waste and now it seems they want to increase our toxic burden – exactly opposite to the treaty’s goal.”
Between the 24th of April and the 5th of May, Zero Waste Europe will be in Geneva, attending the ‘super-COP’ (Conference of the Parties) covering 3 major global conventions on toxics: the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, and the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. At the conference, Zero Waste Europe will be promoting our newest policy briefing opposing exemptions for decaBDE.
The COP will be an important forum for the discussion of policies that could determine the global future of the circular economy.
Despite the significance of this meeting it remains largely unknown, an inaccessible policy arena shrouded in jargon and secrecy. The meeting covered largely by trade journalists rarely makes headlines, but the decisions made here affect the lives of millions of people.
What is worse is that in this largely unreported conference EU delegates and representatives are actively pushing for the implementation of policies which could jeopardise the creation of a clean circular economy in Europe and around the world.
Toxic chemicals, watered down legislation
A significant point of concern for observers of the conference are the substances which are listed to be banned under the Stockholm Convention. These substances include hormone-disrupting chemicals which are extremely resistant to breaking down in the environment. Known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) many of these chemicals have already been banned under the convention. However whilst the effects of these chemicals on the environment and human health is well documented, when it comes to a chemical used as a flame retardant called decaBDE, the EU has continued to lobby against increasing regulations.
EU delegates at the conference are actively pushing for less stringent regulation and specific exemptions for the recycling of waste containing decaBDE. The position of the EU is significantly weaker than the recommendations from the conventions expert committee which calls for no recycling exemptions and an immediate ban of decaBDE.
Time to act for a clean and safe economy
As recycling increases it is a matter of time before a scandal about toxics in recycled material explodes damaging the image of recycling and of the Circular Economy strategy. For this reason it is imperative to move quickly in the restriction of hazardous substances and organise a proper tracking of polluted waste streams to ensure a reliable and safe secondary market for raw materials.
The EU needs to ensure that their delegates advocate for strong international policies on toxics including decaBDE which fully align with the European Circular Economy. A large proportion of Europe’s electronic waste (WEEE) is exported to countries in the Global South ostensibly to be recycled, however it can often end up in dangerous dumping sites, where toxic chemicals can harm the environment and human health. If the EU continues to argue for these exemptions it will be recycling and waste workers in these countries who will bear the full burden of toxics in our recyclables. The EU needs to be consistent in eliminating toxic chemicals from our products, including those which are going to be recycled and lead the way to a clean and safe economy.
Scientists predict that without urgent action there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, threatening marine biodiversity and posing a risk to human health. Yet, despite the danger that plastic pollution poses to our planet and to Human well-being, governments and industry have so far failed to face up to the systemic change required to solve the issue.
At the European level, the development of the Circular Economy Package and the EU Strategy on Plastics present a major opportunity to fundamentally tackle the use of plastic and prevent the creation of plastic waste. This cannot be done without policy makers addressing the full life-cycle of plastics from oil extraction and design, to end-of-life.
“This is the first time that groups from all around the world have come together to find a common solution to the problem of plastic pollution. It is the beginning of a movement which will lead to governments, cities and companies taking major action to tackle this ever-growing problem” said Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Zero Waste Europe policy officer and coordinator of the European plastics alignment process.
European governments and multinationals need to face up to their responsibility for driving the irresponsible use of plastics and for the resulting environmental damage around the world, which often most affects the most vulnerable globally. It is clear that without a strong and coordinated effort and impetus by policy makers, businesses will continue to use plastic indiscriminately and the pollution will intensify.
The NGOs below call on the European Commission and Member States to strive for ambitious policy changes to lead the way to a future free from plastic pollution.
For immediate release: Brussels, September 08 2016
There are several different fire safety standards for furniture in Europe. Some standards lead to the use of flame retardant chemicals. Scientific research shows that many flame retardants are hazardous to both human health and the environment, without providing a demonstrated fire safety benefit.
Furniture flammability standards that lead to the use of flame retardants bring harmful and potentially harmful chemicals into homes, schools, hospitals and workplaces. Such requirements threaten human health, the global environment, and the recycling of furniture in the circular economy.
“Creating a real circular economy will be impossible for as long as toxic chemicals enter the cycle and are recycled into new products. We have already seen kitchen utensils and plastic cutlery with hazardous flame retardants. Toxics in, toxics out.” Joan Marc Simon, Executive Director, Zero Waste Europe
There are more effective and less harmful ways to achieve fire safety, without potentially putting the whole population and the environment at risk. The use of smoke detectors is one way of increasing escape time as the fire is detected earlier, without the potential harm from exposure to chemicals.
“Fire fighters have a higher risk than civilians for a variety of cancers, and we know there is a concern flame retardants contribute to increasing that risk. Fire safety can be achieved in other means than using potentially harmful chemicals: smoke detectors and sprinklers are amongst the most effective.” Mikael Svanberg, European Fire Fighter Unions Alliance (EFFUA).
Flame retardant chemicals leak out of products and build up in the environment. They create a toxic legacy that does not disappear over time, but stays in the air, soil and sediments of the oceans – eventually ending up in the food we eat.
“If we can increase fire safety without causing serious harm to humans and nature, we should go for it! In the US, California and Washington states have already scrapped flammability standards which filled household furniture with hazardous chemicals. Europe should follow suit and end this madness immediately.” Tatiana Santos, Senior Policy Officer on Chemicals, European Environmental Bureau (EEB).
The different flammability standards throughout Europe are complicated to comply with and place a costly burden on the producers. Flame retardants increase costs in production, while lowering the quality of products. This is a serious challenge to the furniture sector in Europe, putting jobs and growth at risk.
“As a producer, having to comply with several standards to be able to sell our products on the European market is unbearable. The existing multitude of National Flammability standards are effective barriers to trade in the internal market.” Markus Wiesner, President, European Furniture Industries Confederation (EFIC)
Important steps to eliminate hazardous flame retardants have already been taken through REACH and other regulatory approaches in the EU. It is time for the final step through harmonised safety requirements for furniture that do not lead to the use of flame retardant chemicals. ENDS PRESS CONTACT: Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Zero Waste Europe Policy Officer +32 (0) 478 712 633 firstname.lastname@example.org
Following a successful campaign in the USA, the regulation in California has been changed in order to avoid the use of flame retardant chemicals whilst maintaining a high level of fire safety. Other states are following California’s lead. Here are some useful links:
A new report released today by Zero Waste Europe has found that waste incineration activities, both in incineration facilities and cement plantsacross Europe, have had serious breaches of emission limits and have experienced other significant technical and legal problems. Across 5 case studies a number of environmental, procedural and technical issues faced by waste incinerators are exposed.
The report, elaborated by consultancy group ENT, investigates 5 cases around air pollution limit breaches in incineration facilities; the Lafarge cement plant in Montcada I Reixac (Barcelona, Spain), Lafarge cement plant in Trbovlje (Slovenia), Ivry waste incinerator in Paris (France), Dargavel waste incinerator (Scotland, UK), and incinerators of Bavaria, Germany.
The report highlights that the emission limits of hazardous air pollutants as designated by the EU Air Quality Directives (AQDs) are significantly higher than recommended safety limits by the World Health Organization (WHO), creating a significant amount of uncertainty and potential safety risks for both the environment and public health. Moreover, the reliance on the principle for “best available techniques” (BAT) favours far higher emission limits than are deemed environmentally and epidemiologically safe by the WHO. Furthermore, the monitoring of air pollution in waste incineration activities are handled by the same facilities, and are therefore not subject to independent monitoring practices.
In the case of the Lafarge Montcada I Reixach cement plant, there is a long history of popular opposition to the plant, with protests taking place in 1975, however more recently in 2006 a petition gained 6,000 signatures opposing a plan to use sludge, bone and meat meal, and plastics as fuel. This opposition delayed the permit for the plant, but it was subsequently granted in 2008. However this began a long series of legal and procedural challenges to the permit, which continues to take place up until the current day.
Further cases such as Dargavel, and the incinerators in Bavaria highlight the instances where the legally defined limits are exceeded. Having potentially hazardous effects on human health and the environment. The case of the cement plant in Trbovlje, Slovenia, has been on the national and European spotlight in the last years, given the complaints from local communities for toxic emissions, odours, and lack of environmental permits.
Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe Associate Director said: “How many air pollution incidents do people need to put up with before policy-makers realise that burning waste is not the way forward? Recycling and composting create livelihoods, save money, and protect the environment and public health, while the incineration of waste just keep us away from a truly sustainable Circular Economy.”
The report adds further support to the call for an end to the incineration of waste, as practice which continues to exacerbate climate change and creates damaging and hazardous environmental pollution. Instead Zero Waste Europe calls for the implementation of zero waste policies that prioritize the higher options of the Waste Hierarchy, such as waste prevention, reuse and recycling, including redesign and the implementation of improved Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, where producers are mandated to work to eliminate their product waste.
The report has been launched in Barcelona, as a start to the International Meeting of Key Struggles around Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns, This meeting is a follow up from the previous European Gathering that took place in 2014 in Barletta, Italy, and builds up the efforts of the Spanish Network against Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns that has been active for the last 6 years.
Incineradoras No, Zero Waste Madrid is successfully paving the way for Zero Waste Municipalities in the area of Madrid, in Spain.
Since this summer, thanks to the progressive political turn in many municipalities in the area, the network has been able to ally with alternative political parties and pass a motion in at least 4 municipalities calling for zero waste. Moreover, the network has been able to create and develop working groups for the implementation of Zero Waste in various municipalities, as an alternative to the waste management model of municipal waste.
The four municipalities that have already approved the motion are Loeches, Mejorada del Campo, Torres de la Alameda and Velilla de San Antonio. All of them are small municipalities no more than 44km2 and with no more than 23,000 inhabitants. However, they have a lot of environmental problems such as plants for the treatment of sludge from toxic materials, wastewater treatment, the deposit of industrial and dangerous waste, illegal landfills, incinerators and cement kilns burning waste.
The approval of the motion brings positive news and hope to the current waste management situation in Madrid. It is a presents a step in the right direction on the way to a Zero Waste reality.
The motion in detail
The motion recognises the urgent need to stop relying on false solutions, such as lanfills and incinerators. This model effects the environment and the health of the people of neighbouring and nearby municipalities. We therefore need a paradigm shift, and in the motion we ask for:
The creation of a working committee to implement a zero waste model with the participation of local political and civil society groups.
The council to be formally required to create a ‘regional waste strategy 2016-2026’ for the City of Madrid. This would replace the current and outdated strategy and set the objective of ‘Zero Waste’ waste management in our region..
An awareness raising campaign should be carried out with citizens participation, where people are informed about the current waste management practice, its impacts, the alternatives, and benefits involved such alternatives.
The municipal waste collection should be evaluated and be run by the municipality and not by external companies. This would include:
A study of current and future costs of waste management if it were to be run by the municipality should be conducted. This study should assess its viability and implementation.
A review of current waste management contracts and whether they can be modified, to allow a gradual implementation of a zero waste selective collection project.
Control and monitoring of the current waste collection to ensure that contracts are enforced, so we would able to confirm that they are not mixing municipal waste and other types of waste (packaging) etc. in its collection.
‘Incineradoras No, Zero Waste Madrid’
This Zero Waste Europe member is a network of neighborhood associations, environmental groups, Popular assemblies of 15M, collectives of organic gardens, organisations formed to fight facilities and harmful waste plans, “No Macro-Landfill, Yes Zero Waste” campaign, representatives of political groups and individual zero waste campaigners. Their common goal is the fight against the creation of hazardous waste, against harmful waste facilities and planned facilities primarily located in the Eastern region of Madrid.
Over the years this network has been a focal point of resistance to environmental damage in the area. It works to submit refutations to waste projects, environmental damage reports, conducting lobbying and organising trainings, rallies and demonstrations aiming to show the popular opposition against these projects.
While challenging these facilities, the network has developed, and now promotes an alternative Zero Waste policy to the current waste treatment plans. This should be implemented in all municipalities of the City of Madrid. In this way, Zero Waste Madrid also wants to reach the institutions through the current ‘popular unity’ candidates who are much more open to this project through motions in the municipalities where they are in office.
In conclusion, thanks for the wonderful work of ‘Incineradoras No, Zero Waste Madrid’, zero waste is really happening in Madrid!
Combining the stories of dozens of local and regional groups, this study demonstrates the importance of learning from successful examples of climate finance in looking ahead into the future. With the creation of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was created to help transform developing country economies by supporting high quality investments in clean energy and climate resilience, it is essential that future projects are able to learn from a critical assessment of previous climate finance projects.
Previously concerns have been raised around the lack of criteria for the GCF investments. Earlier this year, civil society organisations demanded the GCF approve an exclusion list to ensure that none of this climate investments will end up financing dirty energy sources. In this regard, GAIA and Zero Waste Europe have been actively campaigning against the financing of incinerators by the GCF, Mariel Vilella, Associate Director of Zero Waste Europe said “Given the urgency of the climate crisis, the shrinking pool of public money, the health risks of incineration, and the availability of sound alternatives, waste-to-energy would be a bad investment for the Green Climate Fund”.
The new study consists of 22 examples of successful climate related projects, programs and policies, across three continents; Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The examples were identified by organisations from the Global South and North and follow a comprehensive list of overarching characteristics: all of them are deeply rooted in the local communities, are inclusive and encourage the participation of affected communities; recognize and respect people’s rights, with special attention on gender and relationships/partnerships building; and most importantly, all of them are fully grant-funded, which allowed for flexibility, experimentation and innovation. (See the full list)
One of the case studies featured in report, under the category of ‘mitigation’ is that of the Solid Waste Collection and Handling (SWaCH) cooperative. Based in Pune, India the cooperative is ‘an autonomous social enterprise that provides front-end waste management services’, over 80% of SWaCH members are women from marginalised castes, and as a result of the cooperative worker-members can earn up to three times their previous daily income.
It is further estimated that the SWaCH program saves the city an estimated $2.8 million per year in waste collection and disposal costs, and is responsible for preventing 640,000 tons of greenhouse gasses annually. The story and success of the SWaCH workers has been well documented, and more details can be found in the GAIA report on Successes and Lessons from Around the World
The case ofthe Zero Waste Program at Bir Hospital in Nepal, with no external funding the hospital managed to successfully reduce dioxin emissions associated with medical waste incineration by 90%, whilst increasing the percentage of the total waste stream which is recycled to over 50% , a move which is responsible for supporting hundreds of recycling jobs.
Such incredible achievements were possible through sustained efforts and initiatives from vermicomposting to the redesign of thermometers and other medical technology to use non-mercury alternatives, with the support of the Health Care Foundation and international allies such as Health Care Without Harm. This project carried out with zero budget, demonstrates the huge potential for a GCF funded program which would have the capacity to improve waste management across hundreds of hospitals in the region.
The success of the waste workers of Pune, and Nepal, on comparatively tiny budgets make it clear that the GCF should be doing more to expand and develop such programs and that truly effective climate finance projects include a wide range of factors, which are deeply rooted in affected communities. Only with these lessons of past successes can we hope to make progress towards a strong and effective climate finance model which is equitable for everyone involved.
In Trbovlje, Slovenia, the Lafarge-owned cement plant has been ordered to stop operations after it’s been revealed that the plant lacks the necessary environmental permits. Still, the plant has filed a complaint to the Ministry of Environment of Slovenia and it’s expected that it will try to get further permissions, thus the local groups that have been campaigning against the environmental pollution from the plant for years, remain vigilant and under alert.
Eko Krog (Eco Circle) the Slovenian Society for Nature Conservation and Environmental Protection along with local residents, has been fighting the Lafarge plant’s burning of hazardous waste and campaigning on the issue of clean air for over 10 years. Since the beginning of their campaign in 2004, the group have denounced inadequate environmental permits given to the cement plant and have faced complicated legal challenges; on one occasion receiving over 500 pages of legal documents from Lafarge with only 14 days for comment.
The Lafarge plant received a permit to burn waste from 2009 to 2011, a period in which the plant burnt all kinds of hazardous and municipal solid waste. Thanks to Eko Krog and their efforts on the legal battle, the Court rejected the permit given to Lafarge and ordered the end of co-incineration of waste in the plant. However, Lafarge did not stop operations at the plant, which has led to Slovenia being subject to EU legal action for its failure to implement a permit system which ‘requires industrial plants to be licensed to verify they meet strict environmental controls’ in line with the IPPC Directive of 2007. In the course of this action, Lafarge has finally resumed operations in this plant, but it’s pursuing new permits.
The biggest obstacle to zero waste
In this recently released video, Uroš Marcerl, of Eko Krog, talks about the campaign against the pollution from the incineration of waste in the Lafarge plant. “We’ll never allow this story to repeat itself in the Zasavje region” he says “they’re interested in enormous profits through waste incineration – nothing else”. Erika Oblak from Ekologi Brez Meja (Ecologists Without Borders) says that Lafarge “in the end only care about annual profits”.
Waste incineration in cement kilns has been a growing problem as cement plants have increasingly moved to burning hazardous waste as opposed to producing cement in an effort to grow profits. However, the high level of heavy metals incinerated in the kilns poses a risk to surrounding communities and the environment. Professor emeritus Paul Connett of St. Lawrence University, New York has called waste incineration in cement kilns “the biggest obstacle to zero waste”.
Slovenia is at a tipping point, with more and more municipalities taking up zero waste goals, inspired by Ljubljana being the first EU capital to adopt a zero waste strategy. As municipalities pave the way for a zero waste future and phase out plans to build incinerators, there is a growing threat that the cement industry will increasingly pressure the government to use waste as fuel for their operations, despite obvious impacts on the environment and public health. Opposition to Lafarge’s waste burning practices is not exclusive to Trbovlje plant in Slovenia. In Montcada i Reixach, Catalonia, the High Court of Justice of Catalonia has rejected the environmental permit given to the Lafarge cement plant to burn waste. The local anti-incineration campaign Montcada Aire Nethave been calling for Lafarge to halt their waste burning activities for many years.
Whilst the Trbovlje cement plant continues to operate, so too does Eko Krog continue to oppose incineration in the region, and it is hoped that we will soon see the end of waste incineration in the Zasavje region.
Watch the video for yourself and see what you think:
These three toxic chemicals are listed in the Stockholm Convention for global elimination. They are ubiquitous in the environment globally and can disrupt human hormone systems, creating potential adverse effects on the development of the nervous system and children’s cognitive functioning.
The EU proposal wants to keep these toxic flame-retardants in products and recycled products such as children’s toys, food containers and soft furnishings. The main argument for this move was the protection of the European recycling industry. However, Zero Waste Europe has already argued about the importance to ensure a toxic-free Circular Economy and reinforce product policies that will drive toxics out of the cycles of materials as a way to guarantee quality recycling in the future.
“Without clean production there will be no circular economy. Bridging between products, waste and chemicals legislation is a key aspect to make it work. Keeping this flame retardants is a step back for the circular economy”, said Joan Marc Simon, ZWE’s Executive Director.
Precisely, Zero Waste Europe together with FOEE, ChemTrust and the EEB recently called the EU to find the right balance between encouraging recycling and avoiding re-injecting hazardous substances into the economy, and made a joint presentation of some key principles that would ensure clean, effective and sustainable circular economy, including the removal of problematic substances from products at the design stage, the full compliance with chemical legislation for products applying for end of waste criteria, and appropriate marking, amongst other key demands.
The EU proposal in the Geneva UN Conference would not only allow toxic recycled products to be used by consumers in the EU, but it would also impact developing countries if wastes were imported there. Thus this move would transfer a toxic burden from the Global North to the Global South where the capacity to deal with contaminated waste is generally limited, potentially increasing health problems and general wellbeing.
African countries expressed deep concern regarding the EU’s position in Geneva. “We do not want toxic chemicals recycled into toys for African children and we do not think EU children should be playing with them either,” said Tadesse Amera, PAN Ethiopia. “The EU already sends us e-waste and now it seems they want to increase our toxic burden.”
Jindrich Petrlik from Arnika Association said, “As an EU-based public interest NGO we find it shameful to see the EU violating the integrity of the Stockholm Convention, and putting economic interests before human health and the environment. This is poisoning the circular economy.”
More info, download:
New Study: Toxic Toy or Toxic Waste: Old POPs in New Products
Efficient material management, reduction of toxic substances, energy efficiency and economic incentives.
The Circular Economy could bring significant environmental, social and economic benefits to the European Union. In order to deliver resource efficiency, job creation, low-carbon prosperity, a healthy environment, clean production and sustainable consumption, it is necessary to take a holistic approach by working across a number of policy areas. Failure to address every aspect of the issue by developing only partial solutions will prevent the EU from enjoying the overarching benefits the circular economy can provide.
This paper highlights four key areas the undersigned NGOs believe must be addressed by the EU institutions to ensure a fully functioning circular economy, and some of the often overlooked benefits that can result.
Resource Efficiency and Zero Waste: the basis of a true circular economy
Although we live in a planet of finite resources, global extraction of resources has been rapidly increasing. The European Union is a net importer of natural resources; from precious metals to the water or land necessary to produce every product we consume. At the same time, our linear economic model results in 50% of Europe’s municipal waste being landfilled or incinerated, generating considerable carbon emissions. Our mismanagement of natural resources causes many environmental problems: climate change, depletion of resources, the release of toxics pollutants and marine litter, to name a few. It is estimated that fully implementing the EU’s waste laws could save up to €72 billion.
A true circular economy would reduce both inputs in the form of resources, and outputs, in the form of waste and emissions. The EU circular economy should aim to achieve high resource efficiency, zero waste and zero emissions.
The transition to a circular economy therefore requires fundamental changes across the entire economy based on the following interdependent pillars:
Material management from extraction to waste
Europe needs to radically increase the efficiency with which it manages its material resources, as measured by a continuing reduction in resource use per capita. This can be done by progressively closing the loop with effective product and waste policies.
To tackle Europe’s resource dependency, the EU needs to measure and reduce its material, water, land and carbon footprints. The material footprint (based on Raw Material Consumption, already measured by Eurostat) should be included as an indicator in the European Semester.
Product design is fundamental to reach the goals of the circular economy. Good design can improve product and process performance, phase out hazardous materials, enable and incentivise the repair and reuse of products, and can also ensure the use of recycled and recyclable materials.
Product design-related requirements should be set by the EU in four ways: (1) through the full implementation of the Ecodesign Directive, and also its extension and adaptation to non-energy related products; (2) through the Waste Framework and Packaging and Packaging Waste Directives; (3) through existing tools such as Ecolabel, Green Public Procurement and Energy labelling and (4) through certification and standardisation tools.
A credible long-term zero waste policy is not only crucial in eliminating waste but also in creating a feedback mechanism at the end of life-cycle that allows products to be redesigned and to re-enter the economy, thus preventing them from becoming waste. Therefore, an enforceable waste hierarchy that guides activities towards prevention, reuse and recycle with ambitious targets, while promoting zero landfill and zero incineration is an absolute necessity. In addition, it is necessary to have harmonised definitions and a single measurement methodology to allow Member States to monitor the progress of each of these activities towards the common goal of zero waste.
Toxics, chemicals and health
A circular economy cannot work without clean production. Toxic substances should be avoided at the design stage to allow products and materials to circulate in a closed loop without endangering the quality of materials and the health of citizens, workers and the environment. This requires changing our approach to toxic substances so that in a circular economy, hazardous substances will not hinder the processes of reuse, repair and recycling.
This requires stronger application of REACH, and potentially more product-specific requirements, with the example of the ROHS directive; restricting substances used in new electronic equipment, as a potential model. Stronger regulations are needed to trace and minimise hazardous chemicals in products which endanger the capacity of the product or material to circulate repeatedly in the loop.
When a temporary exemption or authorisation has been granted to enable the continued presence of hazardous substances in products made from recycled material, the material should be labelled and associated with a specific marking.
The circular economy can contribute a great deal to Europe’s energy efficiency drive. There is a huge potential in preserving the energy embedded in products and materials and preventing them from becoming waste; far more than can be generated by burning or landfilling them.
New methodologies must be developed to account for, and reward, the preservation of energy embedded in products or materials. Premiums for energy from waste incineration distort markets. Therefore they should not be considered unless there is a level playing field with embedded energy conservation, including taking into account the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from prevention, reuse or recycling during comparison.
This new approach to energy management should be included in the new Energy Union strategy and be incorporated in the renewable energy and climate policies through the clean development mechanism. Although this already exists, it is currently channelling public money to finance infrastructure developments that contradict the very concept of the circular economy.
Instruments: economic incentives
Maximising resource efficiency and keeping materials circulating in the economy should be cheaper and simpler than consuming virgin resources. To facilitate this, the EU needs to change the current economic incentives that drive our linear consumption pattern.
A circular economy will require policies to make it legally and economically viable to sell services instead of goods, to sell durable goods that are repairable, reusable and upgradable, to promote shared or leased ownership, and to have a return or reuse programme. Wasteful practices should be made more expensive than these efficient ones.
To further encourage resource efficiency and zero waste, resource consumption should be made more expensive in comparison with product service, maintenance and repair operations, which should become cheaper. This would mean taxation shifting from labour to resources, especially virgin resources, as this will help to increase employment in Europe and decrease resource use while incentivising businesses to move towards circular production and consumption patterns. Reduced taxes or tax allowances for repair, reuse and refurbishment businesses, and increased taxes on single-use and hard-to-recycle materials are a way to implement this.
In addition, the European Commission should explore the effects, impacts and options of extending minimum legal product warranties. This would oblige manufacturers to bear full responsibility for any product failure during a legally determined period after purchase.
Economic instruments such as incineration and landfill taxes are needed in order to move up the waste hierarchy. Burning and landfilling recyclable or compostable materials should be banned. Public funding, including public procurement and the €300bn Juncker investment plan should be used to fund prevention, reuse and recycling infrastructure as a priority. Deposit and refund schemes are useful for educating citizens on the value of recycling, as well as ensuring the collection of commonly littered items such as beverage bottles, and can be integrated within extended producer responsibility schemes.
Overarching benefits of working on the four pillars
The circular economy will help reduce costs related to extracting and transporting virgin resources. This will also reduce business resource costs; for example, the EU manufacturing sector could save up to $630 billion per year by 2025 thanks to resource-efficiency measures.
The full implementation of existing EU waste legislation would save €72 billion a year by 2020, and the waste package presented in July 2014 has the potential to increase these numbers significantly.
Job creation Full implementation of existing EU waste legislation would create over 400,000 jobs. The waste package presented by the European Commission in July 2014 was estimated to create an additional 180,000 direct non-delocalizable jobs by 2030. The thorough implementation of the other three pillars discussed here could increase these numbers significantly.
A shift from taxing labour to taxing resources will lead to reduced labour costs for the employer and/or higher take-home pay for the employee.
The significant investments necessary for creating incineration infrastructure could instead be redirected to developing re-use centres and networks, recycling infrastructure and renewable energy, all of which require more, better quality jobs than incineration and landfilling.
The circular economy will reduce the energy required for extraction of virgin materials and production. Processes that use secondary raw materials consume considerably less energy than manufacturing from virgin materials. For example, remanufacturing typically uses 85% less energy than manufacturing does. More durable and reusable products and materials will result in longer life-cycles and better retention of the embedded energy of products. Further, this will reduce the need to extract and produce new materials and products, resulting in radical energy savings in extraction and production. As a result, the EU will save energy, increase resource efficiency and will reduce its import dependence on energy from third countries.
Reuse of products and materials saves a considerable proportion of the resources needed to manufacture goods from virgin materials. For example, UK analysis suggests that remanufacturing saves at least 70% of materials compared to manufacturing new goods.
Climate Change Mitigation
The Circular Economy will represent a significant step towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy, advancing towards the EU’s objective for 2050.
The waste package presented by the European Commission in July 2014 was estimated to have the potential to reduce emissions by 443 million tonnes of greenhouse gas between 2014 and 2030, without taking into account the further changes discussed here.
Health & Well-being
Reducing hazardous chemicals in production and in products will consequently reduce the impact on human health caused by close daily contact, or from indirect exposure from emissions into the environment.
Eliminating wherever possible toxic materials at the design stage will make it easier to safely and efficiently reuse, repair and recycle those products.
Europeans will benefit from avoiding emissions caused by burning and burying waste. A reduction in crop loss, respiratory and skin diseases, infertility, certain cancers, metabolic diseases and neurological/mental health issues will result. A recent study of the health costs of certain toxic chemicals estimated an annual cost to the European Union of approximately €157 billion per year and noted that this was an underestimate as only some chemicals and some diseases were included.
Reduction in marine litter
80% of marine litter results from land-based activities and is a consequence of unsustainable production patterns and poor waste management. Marine litter also represents a threat to human and ecosystem health, as plastic particles are known to bioaccumulate up the food chain, and carry dangerous pathogens across oceans to new areas.
Turning our economy into a circular economy is the ultimate solution to this problem. A significant reduction in marine litter will bring about a multitude of benefits. The annual costs from marine litter in Europe have been estimated at between €259 to 694.7 million for the fisheries, tourism and recreation sectors, as well as clean-up costs for coastal municipalities. Less waste in the sea means less marine animals and birds suffering entanglement or ingestion of litter, representing savings of around €12 billion each year.
The costs to the marine environment from marine litter cannot be fully quantified, but considering waste has been found in the bodies of hundreds of species, and the remotest corners of the marine environment, urgent action must be taken to prevent the problem from getting worse.
Stability of supply
Improvement of resource efficiency, by measuring and reducing our material, land, water and carbon footprints will result in member states being less dependent on imports.
The EU could also benefit from improved trade balance due to reduced imports. The Waste and Resources Action Plan estimates them as €110 billion.
Greater security in resource supply, and reduced land and water consumption outside our borders, can lead to improved geopolitical relations across the world.
Closing the nutrients loop would allow vital components such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium to return to the soil in the form of compost, effectively capturing carbon and improving crop resilience, along with increasing the water retention capacity of the soil.
Pesticide-free agriculture would allow for job creation, energy savings and potential health benefits.
Taking ambitious steps towards a circular economy would reduce Europe’s use of materials and energy, decrease the amount of hazardous chemicals entering our environment, and ensure a multitude of economic benefits while creating locally-based, stable employment for thousands of Europeans. A circular economy in which we not only use resources and energy more efficiently, but also consume less in total, will benefit the environment and reduce the European Union’s import dependency along with the likely threat of price shocks in the future.
Many of these ambitious steps are achievable in the short-term, and the sooner they are implemented, the greater the benefits will be. Any of these benefits would be enough on their own to commend a policy, but the positive, cumulative effects of each of these changes will be multiplied. Improving our material management will lead to greater energy efficiency, as well as economic, environmental and social benefits for European communities. The EU must not hesitate to spearhead the transition to a circular economy, for the benefit of both people and planet.
According to the SERI/WU Global Material Flows Database, global extraction has increased by 118% over the past 31 years http://www.materialflows.net/trends/analyses-1980-2011/global-resource-extraction-by-material-category-1980-2011/.
 European Environmental Agency, Environmental Indicator Report, 2014, 30.
 Eurostat 2014, env_wasmun series reported that in 2013, 41.8% of EU-28 waste was recycled.
 Bio Intelligence Service for European Commission DG Environment, Implementing EU Waste Legislation for Green Growth, 2011.
 McKinsey & Company, Remaking the industrial economy, 2014.
 Bio Intelligence Service for European Commission DG Environment, Implementing EU Waste Legislation for Green Growth, 2011.
 Commission Staff Working Document (SWD/2014/0207 final), Impact assessment accompanying the document Proposal for reviewing the European waste management targets.
 Commission Staff Working Document (SWD/2014/0207 final), Impact assessment accompanying the document Proposal for reviewing the European waste management targets.
 KTN, Supporting Excellence in UK Remanufacturing, 2014.
 Next Manufacturing Revolution, The Next Manufacturing Revolution: Non-Labour Resource Productivity and its Potential for UK Manufacturing, 2013.
 Commission Staff Working Document (SWD/2014/0207 final), Impact assessment accompanying the document Proposal for reviewing the European waste management targets.
 Trasande et al, Estimating Burden and Disease Costs of Exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in the European Union, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2015 Apr;100(4):1245-55.
 GESAMP, The State of the marine environment ,1991.
 Arcadis for European Commission DG Environment, Marine Litter study to support the establishment of an initial quantitative headline reduction target, 2014.
The interaction between product, waste and chemicals legislation is a key aspect of the circular economy. It is an important part of a successful transition to sound material loops, and to our protection from hazardous substances.
It’s important to note that once something becomes waste it is exempted from REACH chemicals law. Instead, EU waste legislation controls who is responsible for the discarded material, who can deal with waste, how it should be processed and restricts its trade around Europe and beyond. This is necessary because of the particular risks posed by waste, including the risk of criminal activity.
If waste is to re-enter the economy, as recycled material incorporated in new products or as a secondary raw material to be traded, it needs to be ensured that it has been processed in such a way as to create a safe product. It is only once a material is no longer waste that REACH chemicals law will apply. This can be established through an end of waste process, e.g. as explained by the UK Government here. Reaching end of waste status requires compliance with chemical legislation to ensure protection of the public and the environment, and to ensure a level playing field with the requirements for virgin raw material.
Particular issues emerge when discarded products contain substances which have since been restricted or otherwise controlled through EU chemicals laws such as REACH. This creates a legacy that recyclers and converters have to deal with. The default position is that these chemicals will also be restricted in end of waste or in new products made of recycled material. Most of the objections to chemical legislation among the recycling industry are related to this issue. In some cases the complaint is based on lack of understanding of how the system works, and the rationale for it. In other cases this is a dispute about the safety and advisability of allowing a specific restricted substance to be incorporated into new products made from recycled material.
The question is therefore about finding the right balance between encouraging recycling and avoiding re-injecting hazardous substances into the economy.
Our KEY principles for a clean, effective and sustainable circular economy
A clean, effective and sustainable circular economy requires the removal of problematic substances from products at the design stage. This requires stronger application of REACH, and potentially more product-specific requirements, with the example of the ROHS directive, restricting substances used in electronic equipment, as a potential model. The circular economy and chemical legislation are clear partners in this. The first stage of the waste hierarchy is prevention, which includes avoidance of hazardous materials.
Once recycled material re-enters the economy due to it receiving end of waste status, by complying with specific end of waste criteria or being incorporated in a new product, it must be fully compliant with chemical legislation. There is a mechanism under REACH authorisation process to provide exemptions, g. cadmium can be present in certain applications of recycled PVC, in spite of a restriction being in place, and we are currently discussing a proposed authorisation for DEHP in recycled PVC. We generally oppose such exemptions, and should they be considered in the future, they must be as limited as possible in scope and time.
When a temporary exemption/ authorisation has been granted to enable the continued presence of hazardous substances in products made from recycled material, the material should be labelled and associated to a specific marking. This will ensure easy identification of contaminated products and a clear difference established compared to non-contaminated products. At the moment it is not possible to identify a PVC product containing cadmium.
Research and development of processes to remove hazardous substances from waste materials should be encouraged, to assist in cleaning up the circular economy. Also note that granting exemptions and derogations for re-injecting hazardous substances in the economy will negatively affect those European businesses working on safe disposal and elimination of hazardous substances
Companies making products should be aware of the chemicals they are using, and which are likely to be restricted in the future, for example by using the SIN List
The claims made regarding the impact of REACH on recyclers, particularly SMEs, are not backed by good quality data. A subjective survey was used, asking companies what legislation they thought to be more burdensome without need for any other data and facts to back up their opinion. It is worth noting that the recent “Cry Wolf” report finds large differences between the exaggerated economic costs claimed for new legislation versus the real outcome.
The EU should focus on creating a clean circular economy – without this there is a major risk of a future loss in public and market confidence in recycled material while creating an endless legacy. The main burden for recyclers is the presence of hazardous substances in material, and not REACH and the chemical policy. The focus of the EU should be on getting these hazardous substances out of products and waste, and not endangering public health and the environment by exempting certain classes of businesses or products from safe requirements and by making it impossible to identify those contaminated materials in the future.
 REACH does not apply to waste, as stated in Article 2(2) “Waste as defined in Directive 2006/12/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council is not a substance, mixture or article within the meaning of Article 3 of this Regulation”