Rewiring our relationship with resources through the Waste Framework Directive (WFD) is vital for the EU to continue to innovate and lead the world in reaching a circular economy by 2040.

These are the findings of a White Paper published today by Handelens Miljøfond, Minderoo Foundation, TOMRA, and Zero Waste Europe, which outlines the urgent steps required to ensure the union remains on track to creating a sustainable future for its citizens.

The White Paper, developed by Eunomia Research & Consulting, sets out a vision for 2040 where society will use materials and products more efficiently in an economy that is well on its way to circularity.

The upcoming revision of the Waste Framework Directive, which has guided EU policy in this area since 1975, offers the opportunity to design a coherent and consistent policy framework for a circular economy – however the scope of the revision is not currently sufficient to set the EU on the right course.

Cecilie Lind, CEO of Handelens Miljøfond said: “This White Paper demonstrates the urgency of rethinking our approach to materials and waste policy in order to build a sustainable and circular economy by 2040, and the revision of the Waste Framework Directive is a critical step in achieving that goal.”

A genuinely circular economy would mean much reduced extraction and use of virgin resources, with a focus on a service economy that keeps products and materials in circulation for as long as possible, making full use of digital technology, systems, and data to manage our use of materials and products.

The White Paper also presents an accompanying blueprint for a policy framework that will drive these changes effectively and at scale, harnessing the power of the single market to give businesses confidence to invest in the new business models necessary to deliver prosperity and profitability while reducing material consumption.

Joan Marc Simon, Director-Founder of Zero Waste Europe, added: “It’s imperative that the EU makes it easier and cheaper for citizens, businesses, and organisations to make the right choices. Unless we make EU policies fit for purpose we can’t shift away from current inefficient linear take-make-waste economic models.”

The White Paper proposes a short-term revision of the WFD (by 2026) to provide:

  • Softer regulation for the reuse, repair, and remanufacturing of products as well as clarity for industry on the environmental performance required of reuse systems.
  • Greater consistency in the scope and application of extended producer responsibility (EPR) and a more granular recycling hierarchy that characterises ‘high quality’ recycling.
  • A supportive environment for rapidly decarbonising the treatment and disposal of waste.

Ultimately the WFD would need to be transformed into a Resources Framework Directive by 2029 which would extend the scope and remit of the framework to include the reduction of resource consumption, introducing a materials application hierarchy to steer the use of different types of materials to maximise decarbonisation.

Dr Marcus Gover, who leads a team of scientists and policy experts at Minderoo Foundation, said: “In a circular economy, consumers will reap the benefits of higher-quality products that last longer while at the same time reducing the harmful impacts materials like plastics, especially microplastics in clothing and tyres, have on our environment.” 

Wolfgang Ringel, Senior Vice President Group Public Affairs at TOMRA commented: More needs to be done to encourage the proper collection, sorting, and recycling of valuable material that is simply thrown away. Implementing legally defined (in other words, mandatory) obligations covering the use of resources, and their responsible handling, is the way forward to ensure a sustainable future for society and our planet.”

Dr Chris Sherrington, Head of Policy at Eunomia Research & Consulting concluded: “We are looking forward to engaging with stakeholders over the next six months on our ideas to help design a regulatory framework which can spur innovation and give businesses the confidence to invest, innovate and deliver the transition to a circular economy. We know these changes need to happen, it’s best to act now and work together in an open, transparent, and collaborative fashion to determine the best way to do so.”