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Investing for a greener future – Green Week 2016

The European Commission’s Green Week, the biggest annual occasion to discuss European environment policy, took place from Monday, 30 May to Friday, 3 June 2016. Under the banner "Investing for a greener future": Green Week focused on how investment should integrate economic opportunity with sustainable environment practice. To show how the investments of today can help a "greener future" become a reality, each day of the Green Week was given a different focus. In a break from tradition, Green Week encompassed event right across Europe with a high level event on the Wednesday in Brussels this year.

Monday saw Green Week kick off in Ljubljana, the new EU's 2016 Green Capital, where the focus was on how investing for greener cities can improve the quality of urban life.  Tuesday, was all about ways of securing our future through investments in the countryside.  Back in Brussels, Wednesday’s programme focused on finding the financing for EU's needs under the Investment Plan for Europe, Thursday then looked at investing in our oceans with Friday taking a more global outlook on sustainable development for future generations.  ENEP successfully secured three high level Green Week 2016 partner events.  On the Thursday, VVM’s national environment event focused on farmers and their role as stewards for the environment. Meanwhile on the Friday, ENEP joined forces with the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium, Green Alliance UK & Orega Business Centres, to host a high level Green Week partner event – Investing in the greener future through the circular economy -on Friday 3rd June. The final event, hosted by AFITE took place on 16th June in Paris to where a series of best practices and experiences were shared around recycling and its contribution to the circular economy.  ENEP is very grateful to the European Commission for their support and particular the help from Pierre Henry, DG Environment’s circular economy specialist.

Opening the Brussels event, Jonny Hazell, from the Green Alliance UK, suggested that maximising value out of resources was not a new concept. The disposable economy has created problems and population growth is increasing the depletion of global raw materials. Jonny spoke of the important work undergoing in the European Union and the United Nations. The Netherlands, New York and London have created Circular Economy hotspots. 

Pierre Henry, representing the European Commission (DG Environment) set out the background to their proposed action plan ‘Closing the Loop’ in December 2015.  He talked about the critical situation where we are consuming three planets worth of raw materials.  The EU currently imports a very significant amount of raw materials. In addition, the Commission has estimated that 170,000 jobs alone will be created from the waste management alone. The proposed action plan seeks to increase product lifetimes, improve ecodesign, clarify food waste targets and refocus the waste directives.  The strategic sectors on which the action plan focuses include plastics, food waste, critical raw materials availability, construction/ demolition wastes and bio-waste based products. In terms of funding Pierre spoke of the significant investments being made through the EU Structural & Investments Funds in the circular economy through regional investment plans and transnational programmes (INTERREG).  Here he suggested that funds could be used for infrastructure on waste management, sorting and recycling. In addition, the Horizon 2020 programme, the EU’s 77 billion programme for Research & Innovation, has allocated under its strand investment in Industry and the circular economy around 550 million euros.  In terms of upcoming opportunities in 2017, the European Commission has open calls on Systemic, eco-innovative approaches for the circular economy: large-scale demonstration projects – (a 2 step call 7th March and 5th September 2017) and  - Water in the context of the circular economy

With the circular economy package, including the revision of 4 waste directives covering reducing landfill, prevention measures, incentives on food waste and extended producer responsibility where the EC wants member states to vary their recycling charges on the basis of a products recyclability. Whilst the European Commission’s action plan ‘Closing the Loop’ is already being implemented, the draft legislative package (the 4 waste directives above) are currently subject to final decision-making in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. A Committee of the Regions (CoR) opinion, setting out local and regional authority views, on the action plan was adopted in April. CoR is now finalising its response to the waste directives at its plenary.  On the 20th June, Member States will meet in the Environment Council to discuss their response to the waste directives which are due to be voted on in the European Parliament on the 15th June – click here to access draft agenda items 9 & 10 and related reports

Finally, Pierre spoke about best practices.  Vienna City Council waste programme has an innovative approach involving an online flea market for the exchange of second hand appliances.  This approach involves advice to consumers and producers.  In Italy, the eco point initiative allows dry products like rice to be sold in supermarkets in bulk requiring consumers bring their own containers. This approach requires clear information on consumption and quality deadlines for the products.  The final example, the Desso carpet take back scheme has been very successful across six member states in reducing the amount of carpet to landfill and maximising raw materials recycled to new carpets.

Representing the commercial operators, Pierre Eymery, from Veolia Environnment, talked about the operators perspective and underlined the investment challenges facing operators in the field.  City waste recycling and separation centres can cost up to 200 million euros.  He spoke of the innovative robotised plants that the company had developed.  He underlined that Circular Economy should not be reduced just to materials.  It should be about the big loop including energy generation and water. Removing lubricants like oil based products, PET plastic separation, anaerobic digestion and phosphorus are all critically important processes in a circular economy.  Waste to energy includes biogas electricity generation and district heat for buildings.  Veolia working on phosphorus removal in Netherlands, UK, Belgium and France.  In relation to the CE package, Pierre talked about the challenges.  He was concerned that there is an over focus on municipal waste.  This represented only 10%. 30% is industrial non-hazardous waste.  Maybe this could be covered.  Welcomes unification of recycling rates.  He expressed concern that low oil prices have led to low plastics costs and especially plastics with a poor recyclability in the next few years. The economic viability of this model should be encouraged especially when prices of raw materials including fossil fuels are impaired.  Tax incentives need to be considered.

Heat from waste incineration will still be an important part of the waste hierarchy. Pierre underlined that waste that cannot be recycled contains high recoverable energy potential (heat supply for urban networks, steam for industrial processes). The development of cogeneration (combined heat and power) significantly improves the energy efficiency of combustion.

Kristof De Smet, ENEP President, focused on the question of water management and sustainable use of land. Planning and urban design he argued were an essential element particularly in relation to waste commercial and construction wastes and in relation to the use and reuse of water through intelligent design of urban landscaping and infrastructures.

The workshop was attended by over 50 representatives of public, private and academic sectors and the presentations can be accessed online.


Read also CEMR position of local & regional government on waste package & EEB factsheets on how the EU can get the Circular economy right

Issue 49