How Circular Europe is

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Unwrapping the Package

The European Commission (EC) communicated its new “Circular Economy Package” in 2015. This package is a document that states the interest and intention of Europe to stimulate Europe’s transition towards a Circular Economy (CE). The intended outcome is a series of concrete actions and results that is to be driven, not only by the EC, but by all other parties as well, member nations, business and any other stakeholders.

Similar to the Paris Agreement (COP21 outcome), the package shows some serious good intentions. But the work still needs to be done, and how and what to do still needs to be determined. This is the reason for the conference that took place last 25th of January in Rotterdam. We, all 300 participants started working at identifying such possible actions.

And similar to the Paris Agreement, this year 2016 will really be about identifying (and hopefully start undertaking) action to meet these intentions. Compared to the Paris Agreement, the EC seems a smaller, more agile task and challenge…

The driver towards the circular economy[1]

The Circular Economy is about driving new economic growth with full awareness that natural resources (material and energy resources) are finite. This brings forward a different approach and attitude towards the materials we use and how we use them, and consequently on how we drive business.

In times of many challenges: financial downturn, unstable international markets (China, oil price) and emerging markets becoming ever-stronger players on the international stage, this is indeed in an attractive proposition.

The Commission’s Circular Economy Package

To the CE, the circular economy is believed to bring more globalcompetitiveness, sustainable economic growth and generate jobs. By ‘closing the loop’, it is recognising the relations between different directives, such as on waste, packaging material and product design… It includes revised legislative proposals on waste, as well as a comprehensive Action Plan: “a number of actions that will target market barriers in specific sectors or material streams, … and horizontal measures in areas such as innovation and investment.”

The Netherlands is currently holding the presidency of the EU for the next 6 months. And it’s the intention of the Dutch government to work on “unwrapping” this package during this period, which means: come to a concrete action plan, legislative proposals and communication. The outcome of this conference and other work will be presented and discussed to the different council configurationsover the next 6 months: environment, competition, agriculture and fisheries, to name a few.

The ministry, the organisers and myself were all happy this event took place at the VanNelle building. It is a beautiful piece of architecture from between the world wars. Renovated it now serves as a workplace for innovation and is used for events. The brand Van Nelle, is one we all grew up with in the Netherlands. It was the main brand for coffee, tea and tobacco. And one has to recognise, the result of a history that flourished thanks to how a western country exploited resources of lands far away…

Opening the CE package – getting to the nitty gritty of the conference

Overall, there seems to be a good understanding on the need for a systemic approach, the importance to allow the links and relations recognised between the different areas: energy and jobs, agriculture and waste, etc. There is mention of industrial symbiosis and the will to be open to all connections and relations. From this starting point, the objective is to address gaps and align directives and initiatives. This includes adapting existing (some already identified) directives and developing and proposing new ones.

Main areas of action

The intended fields of action are brought under 3 main areas: Legislative,Communication and Follow-up initiatives. Within which the following interconnected key action areas were identified:

  • Innovation & monitoring
  • Secondary raw material
  • Production
  • Consumption
  • Waste management

Five priority sectors


  1. Plastics
  2. Food Waste
  3. Critical R
  4. Construction & Demolition
  5. Biomass & bio-based products


Next steps will include the identification and launch of 50 key actions and to have a more inter-institutional[2] process.[3] Particularly in the area of innovation and financing initiatives, it was stated that the Horizon2020 programme will cover 650M€. Also non-financial barriers are important to be addressed in the area of innovation. The Dutch response to this are the “green deals”, a pilot by the Dutch government to help remove obstacles for initiatives by citizens, companies, local councils or any stakeholder organization, in order to achieve more rapid results. Each deal should be suitable in principle to be imitated by others. This is where the real benefits of each Green Deal kicks in.

Among the 300 participants, it was good to meet business people willing to tackle their company’s problems. Still a rare phenomenon, to see people within corporations finding a means to work on something they believe in and contribute on building something new is encouraging. Besides persistence, this requires patience to drive changes that often can be slow.


All conclusions were shared collectively, freely expressed. Some contradictions indicated the complexity of the challenge. Here are a few items. To know more, feel free to contact me

  • Need better definitions – …
  • Quality standards required – …
  • Develop products that will last much longer? – …
  • Integration of policies ‘bio-based’, ‘circular’, ‘nature-based’ – …
  • Risk adversity in public procurement – …
  • Information and education – …
  • Review of priorities – …
  • Tools to finance innovation – …
  • Business language required – …
  • One under-represented topic – …



“stop discrimination on secondary materials”

[1] What is the circular economy ?

[2] A new inter-institutional agreement “on better law-making” – Juncker :  the three institutions should agree on a multi-annual program setting strategic objectives and deliverables in the beginning of the 5-year legislative term, and that the program could be reviewed mid-term.

[3] There are 3 main institutions involved in EU legislation: the European Parliament, which represents the EU’s citizens and is directly elected by them; the Council of the European Union, which represents the governments of the individual member countries. The Presidency of the Council is shared by the member states on a rotating basis. The European Commission, which represents the interests of the Union as a whole.