European Commission reveals circular economy plan amid Covid-19 storm

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The timing of publication of the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan could variously be categorized as unfortunate or a good day – or quarter – to publish bad news.

The proposed set of policies is a laudable one, promising as it does greater durability of products for consumers fed up when their smartphone expires after a year of use, a right to repair electricals, tighter monitoring of damaging raw material use and a range of other policy suggestions aimed at measures ranging from reduced use of plastics to more accurate eco labelling. Seen in that light, the plan that was released on Monday is in danger of going under the radar at a time when the trading bloc and its citizens are scrambling to contain the spread of Covid-19.

On the other hand, the release of another proposed raft of ethical measures that will inevitably be dismissed as red tape by businesses at a time when many will be fighting for their future, may have been very deliberately chosen.

Whatever the thought process behind the announcement of the commission’s latest round of environmentally-friendly provisions, it is consumers and industrial sectors outside energy who are likely to be most deeply affected, as many of the proposed circular economy measures are already applied to the energy industry and its supply chain.

Battery regulation

The commission does, though, promise to introduce a regulatory framework for batteries which could have implications for the electric vehicle and stationary storage sectors. Rules on circular material content and measures to improve collection and recycling rates and to recover valuable materials will be introduced this year to build on the work of the EU Batteries Alliance, according to Monday’s document.

There is talk of requirements related to the carbon footprint of batteries and their manufacturing process as well as ethical sourcing of materials, security of supply and beefing up reuse, repurposing and recycling processes. The commission said it is also “considering” mandating recycled component requirements in vehicles.

The plan also promises to aid international efforts to prevent the illegal dumping of waste outside the EU, a timely announcement given the recent revelations about end-of-life solar panels that were allegedly smuggled and sold on from recycling facilities in Sicily.

As ever, the commission’s plan contains no concrete commitments as it will now go on to be filleted by the European Parliament and member states with a more immediate issue to grapple with.