2020.03.11

"In order to ensure a proper circular economy, hazardous chemicals must be limited"

2020.03.11

Promising action plan for circular economy

Today the European Commission adopted a new Circular Economy Action Plan. Advocacy and Analysis Officer Hanna Sjölund explains why this matters.

Text: Lisa Bergqvist Photo: Bogdan/Mostphotos

Advocacy and Analysis Officer Hanna Sjölundat the Baltic Sea Centre answers five questions about the new EU Circular Economy Action Plan.

 

What does circular economy really mean?

 – In a linear economy we extract, produce and then throw away, whereas in a circular economy we eliminate waste by closing the cycle when reusing and recycling, changing the perception of value in the process. 

What does this have to do with the Baltic Sea?

–  What happens at land affects the sea. The hazardous substances used in industries and consumer products may eventually end up in the sea where they are harmful to the ecosystem. The same goes for nutrients from agriculture which leads to eutrophication. The Baltic Sea, as a semi-closed brackish coastal sea, is especially vulnerable to this. Moving towards a circular economy is crucial as it means using less virgin materials and e.g. improved use efficiency of manure in agriculture, but hazardous substances should not allowed to circulate in the environment.

And this Circular Economy Action Plan – what does it mean? 

 – It basically means decoupling economic growth from resource use. The Circular Economy Action Plan is part of the European Green Deal, the Commission’s overarching strategy for achieving climate neutrality by 2050.  What is important in this context is to see how the proposed strategies, such as the one on circular economy, fits in with the other envisaged strategies, notably the Farm to Fork and the Chemicals Strategies. 

So, what does the Baltic Sea Centre think about the plan?

 – We welcome the fact that the Commission will develop a nutrient management plan, something the Baltic Sea Centre stressed in its reply on the roadmap. In the Baltic Sea region nutrient use efficiency is low and must improve in order to combat eutrophication and increase resource efficiency. In such a management plan we would like to see incentives for developing a market for organic fertilisers especially originating from manure, in order to increase the circulation of nutrients in the agricultural sector. This would also contribute to the implementation of the Fertiliser Trade Regulation. 

– From both a nutrient and chemical perspective we also encourage the Commission to revise the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, which the Commission in the Action Plan states that they will consider reviewing. Not only is there a need for compliance to improve under the current directive but in order to come to terms with micropollutants; chemicals, pharmaceuticals and microplastic, the directive needs to be modernised and include provisions for a fourth step of advanced treatment.

– We also welcome that the Commission takes a more all-encompassing approach to chemicals. The interface between chemicals, products and waste legislation is crucial to get right. In order to ensure a proper circular economy, hazardous chemicals must be limited in both virgin and recycled materials. Especially important is the initiative to co-operate with industry to progressively develop harmonised systems to track and manage information on substances identified as being of very high concern and other relevant substances. As stressed in the Baltic Sea Centre’s reply to the roadmap, information on the chemical composition of articles is today scarce, making it difficult to understand which chemicals that may be released from products to the environment. There is an urgent need for legal incentives to increase the availability of information on chemicals in articles for authorities, researchers, and consumers. As such, we urge the Commission to ensure that “progressively” means a shorter rather than longer timespan and that the systems developed will lead to authorities and researchers being granted access to chemical composition data. This will in turn facilitate identifying hazardous substance in the marine environment. 

What happens next?

 – Now it is time for the Commission, and subsequently the Council and the Parliament, to show that they mean business. All the parts in the strategy need to be further developed into detailed guidelines and new or revised legal texts. In this process it is important that decision makers take scientific findings into account, something we are happy to assist with. 

Hanna Sjölund

Hanna Sjölund

Advocacy and Analysis Officer
hanna.sjolund@su.se