The Circular Economy Package: Can We Believe the Hype?

At the end of last year, the much-anticipated Circular Economy (CE) Package was approved by the European Commission and bringing with it hopes from all member states for a more sustainable economy. The CE sets out a plan and targets for EU waste that should be achieved by 2030, a very welcome step towards a resource efficient economy. But, putting the hype aside, do the measures go far enough when it comes to food waste?

The CE is an EU-wide initiative to help all member states make the transition to a resource efficient economy. Its targets, to be achieved by 2030, require 65 percent of all municipal waste to be recycled, no more than 10 percent of waste sent to landfill and 75 percent of packaging waste to be recycled.

There is no denying that the measures are an important step in the right direction for reducing waste, but there has been feedback from the waste management industry that recycling targets have been watered down from earlier proposed versions of the report. One example is with municipal waste — the original target put forward by the Commission was 70 percent but in the approved version this has been dropped to 65 percent.

However, the key omission within the CE is the lack of legally binding targets for cutting food waste. Industry has been calling for a ban on food waste being sent to landfill for a number of years. Without clear commitment from those in power, we will not see this goal realized.

The importance is evident when you consider that food waste accounts for 8 percent of global emissions and, according to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, one third of all food is wasted.

The CE is certainly a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t seem to go far enough. The new legislation won’t become law for a few years yet, as the legislative package will need to be considered by the European Council and Parliament, and this process may take between one and three years. Even when they come into force, it will need to be transported into UK law, which could ultimately see these targets mandatory past 2020.

When it comes to the UK, England is already lagging behind, as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have proven that you don’t need legally binding targets from Europe in order to implement food waste regulation. The UK as a whole cannot sit back and wait for EU legislation; the government needs to make its own commitment to take action to reduce food waste and ban it from being sent to landfill.

In January 2016, this sentiment was echoed by Dr Liz Goodwin, CEO of WRAP: “In the absence of legislation, I urge the Commission to look closely at voluntary agreements as a means of reducing food waste. Because just as voluntary agreements, such as the Courtauld Commitment, have played a role in helping reduce food waste in the UK, so too I believe they can in the EU.

“Well designed, well run voluntary agreements bring about business behavioral change through engagement — getting buy in to the change which makes it more sustainable. Reducing food waste is just one area voluntary agreements can have an impact.”

The benefits of reducing food waste and eradicating it from landfill are clear but the UK still lacks legislation banning food waste from landfill or even enforcing strict enough reduction targets. The Circular Economy Package is a welcome step forwards but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that it doesn’t go far enough, particularly where food waste is concerned. As well as contributing significantly to GhG emissions and filling up landfill, food waste is a valuable resource that could be generating more than 1.1 TWh of renewable energy and returning more than 1.3m tons of valuable nutrients to the soil in the UK alone. This is truly an opportunity we mustn’t waste.

Lead image: Food waste. Credit: Shutterstock.

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Philip Simpson heads up ReFood, the UK’s leading food waste collection and recycling service. Part of the SARIA Group, the company leads the way in helping retailers, hospitality providers and businesses to divert food waste from landfill and generate renewable energy. Over the past four years, the company has built two state-of-the-art AD plants, in Widnes and Doncaster, utilising both gas-to-grid and combined heat & power (CHP) technology, the two facilities turn around 280,000 tonnes of food waste into renewable energy each year. In addition to running the ReFood business unit, Philip also oversees SARIA’s pet food ingredients division as well as its transport, supply chain and procurement operations. Philip has over 20 years experience in the renewable power sector, developing innovative applications for turning food-industry residues into renewable energy and bio-fuels. He holds an honours degree in Business and Finance, as well as an MBA from the Open University.

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