More, From Less

Chris-MurphyChris Murphy, deputy chief executive and a Fellow of CIWM, looks at the latest European Environment Agency report into material resource efficiency. Has much really changed in the last four years? And how much work still remains to be done?


I seem to recall, some time ago, commenting on the European Environment Agency (EEA) survey and report into the development and implementation of resource efficiency policies across Europe. That report sought to expand the knowledge base and share good practice on resource efficiency, which was an emerging EU policy issue and is now firmly on the agenda.

That was four years ago – or more – and as you might imagine, existing policies have evolved and additional policies have emerged, not just on resource efficiency but also on the circular economy and closing material loops. The circular economy has been on the agenda for some time and with the publication and debate about the EU Package, efforts on resource efficiency have gained additional traction.

more-from-less-material-resource-efficiency-in-europe-1The latest report from the EEA, More from Less – Material Resource Efficiency in Europe, provides an overview (even at 156 pages it is can only provide an insight) into policies, instruments and targets in 32 countries. The foreword to the report states that it is reassuring that economic and environmental co-benefits of increased resource efficiency and closing material loops are explicitly recognised in national approaches. I would have thought that as these resource efficiency programmes have been maturing for at least four years, such co-benefits were a minimum requirement.

Scanning some of the good practice initiatives, policies, instruments and targets across Europe, there are the usual suspects: food waste reduction, energy and resource efficiency, sustainable procurement, prevention and reuse and awareness and behaviour change, related to everything from food waste to litter and energy efficiency.

The relative position of each country, with respect to their adoption of resource efficiency/circular economy philosophy and practice, does dictate the initiatives and targets in place. That said there are a number of interesting policies that might usefully be rolled out beyond the boundaries of individual countries.

Macedonia has an ecolabeling scheme for tourist facilities; both the Netherlands and Poland have material supply initiatives – the former has research on materials critical to its economy and the latter has an action plan for security of supply of non-energy raw materials; Belgium and the Czech Republic have criteria for recycled content in new products… the list of initiatives doesn’t necessarily follow the expected pattern, with some countries starting slowly and moving quickly to forward-thinking policies.

Disappointingly, the report found that for most countries the circular economy still means merely ‘better waste management

The report concludes that the economic benefits of improved efficiency and circularity of resource use are recognised and being acted upon, however there may be no clear evidence of related environmental and socio-economic benefits. They see scope for an increased focus on upstream measures to close material loops, such as eco-design, business models and consumer behaviour to complement existing EU environmental measures. These are issues that CIWM has been “banging on about” for some time.

A common flaw identified in the survey, and one guaranteed to raise my hackles, is that despite targets and monitoring mechanisms there are incompatible definitions and gaps in material flow statistics. This is a persistent bug-bear that was identified in the Circular Economy Package, raised by CIWM and other commentators, and I had hoped would not be repeated in other policy documents across Europe.

As the collectors, sorters and reprocessors of many materials destined to be secondary resources, we have always said that the waste industry has a key role to play in delivering a truly circular economy. Disappointingly, the report found that for most countries the circular economy still means merely “better waste management”.

Also, despite all the good work being done as evidenced in this report, there appears to be no practical connection between climate change, energy and resource efficiency policies. Consequently, there remains a lot of work to be done.


Circular Online

Send this to a friend