We are in the middle of an economic revolution! Yesterday’s economy was linear: We would take, make, use and then throw away. But we are moving on and our economy is changing shape, and the EU wants to accelerate that change. If our economy and our human culture are to survive, tomorrow’s economy must be circular, going from making, to using, to recycling, to reusing. This is the view of the EU and it is taking action to further enable this change by launching its Circular Economy Package, which aims to achieve measurable change by 2030. This is something that many people and governments have already been doing for a long time. Since 2000, household recycling has increased from 11% to an impressive 45%, so we should give ourselves a pat on the back. We saw that something was seriously wrong with our throwaway economy and we did something about it.
Unfortunately, the increase in rates of recycling has levelled off in the past six years. If the EU has anything to do with the situation, this will change in the next decade. The 2030 waste recycling targets that form the centre of the Circular Economy Package require a rapid increase in waste recycling if they are to be met. All countries that agree to it must recycle more than 65% of their municipal waste and more than 75% of their recycling waste from 2030 onward. Perhaps most importantly, only 10% of all waste can end up in a landfill. This means that the government, which has been accused of taking a lax approach to environmental issues and recycling in recent years, must step up its game, assuming that the UK is to remain in the EU.
It will not have to do this alone though; as part of the package, the European Commission has committed more than six billion Euros to helping countries to achieve the three recycling aims. This will be followed swiftly by legislation to turn the proportional recycling targets into legal requirements enforced by European law, with fines in place for those who fail to uphold them.
The new agreement also addresses many of the environmental issues present in the private sector, which make our economy less sustainable. This includes creating eco design standards that require and encourage businesses to design products and packaging with end of life recyclability and biodegradability in mind. The definition of municipal waste has also been broadened to close some recycling commitment loopholes and encourage companies to recycle valuable resources that are currently thrown away.
One thing is inevitable: if the EU has anything to do with it, the UK economy will return to its proactive stance on sustainability, waste reduction and recycling in the coming years. Recycling will be back on the political agenda once again, and our waste will increasingly be diverted away from tips and landfill sites. Welcome to the circular economy.