MEPs want true circularity – Why the European Parliament’s call for binding consumption targets could be a turning point
9 February 2021 was a big day for the environment. Members of the European Parliament had the courage to say it as it is: the EU will only achieve a truly sustainable circular economy if we stop overconsuming. They clearly pointed to the key missing piece of the puzzle, calling for the introduction of two binding targets to significantly reduce the EU’s material and consumption footprints by 2030.
Such targets are essential for circularity to become a real alternative to the take-use-dispose business model. We need to make sure that the EU circular economy is indeed a sustainable one, within the ecological limits of the planet.
With their positive vote on the Circular Economy Action Plan report, MEPs called for science-based binding 2030 EU targets for consumption footprint, covering the whole lifecycle of each product category placed on the EU market. To this end, they urge the Commission to introduce – already this year – harmonised, sound and comparable circularity indicators.
This is of course nothing new – for years, environmental NGOs have been stressing that circular business models and practices are essential to achieving the resource use reduction that we need. Nonetheless, we are very pleased that this discussion is finally on the EU agenda, with some sectors emerging as priority due to their enormous environmental impact. These include, for example, the textile and construction sectors, both of which need to address the issue of overconsumption, and soon. The EU Strategy for Sustainable Textiles, and the EU Strategy for a Sustainable Built Environment are expected this year, and will hopefully put forward targets which will put us on the right path to reaching our climate goals.
Fashion that our planet can handle
In our feedback to the European Commission roadmap for an EU strategy for sustainable textiles, ECOS made it very clear: the strategy must include measures to decrease the current levels of global textile production and consumption.
The Strategy for Textiles should set an ambitious vision for an environmentally sustainable and circular EU textile sector which delivers on the zero pollution objectives and the bloc’s climate-neutrality target by 2050, while addressing the environmental and social impacts of textiles. It is high time for the EU to boost a shift towards circularity, discourage the EU textiles sector from maintaining a linear economy model and better promote upstream solutions.
Measures should follow a real circular economy hierarchy, where value retention and prevention of consumption are adequately prioritised. The sector also urgently needs ecodesign requirements, which will make our clothes longer-lasting, easier to reuse and recycle, and free of hazardous chemicals and microplastics releases. After all, design is not only about the latest fashions – the challenge is to design sustainability in as well, and communicate about it via reliable labelling and claims. It is also time for manufacturers to take responsibility for the products they put on the EU market through Extended Producer Responsibility schemes.
A built environment made of more sustainable ingredients
The construction products policy framework also needs to be transformed to tackle pressing challenges related to environmental sustainability, legal functionality, and enforceability. We firmly believe that the EU should establish clear minimum performance requirements for all construction products.
But the need for improvement does not end at production phase: the focus should also be on sustainability of construction products while they are in use. Rules should incentivise an extended service-life for products, and, ultimately, buildings. Finally, in order to prevent the growing amounts of waste in the sector, EU policies should close the loop and ensure products are easy to reuse in line with the waste hierarchy.
On 8 March, MEPs are expected to vote on a report on the implementation of the Construction Products Regulation (CPR). The report calls for an ambitious revision of the CPR to help green the construction sector from the ground up. A positive vote in plenary will be a significant boost of support for the European Commission to pursue an ambitious revision of the Construction Products Regulation.
This revision is set to form a major part of the EU Strategy for a Sustainable Built Environment, but ECOS among many other NGO and industry stakeholders are concerned that this strategy may not be delivered at all. In the absence of coherence and coordination of relevant policies, the Commission risks compounding complexity of the current framework, rather than addressing it directly.
Towards a more resource efficient future
As global production and consumption are expected to continue growing, it is high time policymakers set binding 2030 targets for materials use and consumption footprint. But a lot still needs to happen: we are eagerly awaiting a number of key initiatives such as the Sustainable Product Policy, as well as specific frameworks targeting the most polluting sectors. 2021 will be a crucial year for the pieces of the puzzle to come together – and deliver on the EU Green Deal so that we can truly achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.