For the EU to remain competitive and to preserve our environment, natural resources should be used in the most efficient way and without depleting the planet's resources. Recycled waste can be injected back into the economy as secondary raw materials. The EU works to make this easier, and to realise the full potential of these materials. It also promotes the fair and sustainable sourcing of primary raw materials globally.
Even if we recycle better and more, primary raw materials will continue to play an important role in the economy. EU laws and policy, for instance on environmental impact assessments and extractive activities such as mining, can help reduce the environmental impacts of the exploration, extraction, production and waste management of these raw materials.
The Raw Materials Initiative is the EU’s raw materials strategic policy framework. It aims to secure a sustainable supply of raw materials for Europe and deals with all types of raw materials except those produced by agriculture and forestry and those used as fuel.
The Commission is exploring ways to ensure that the bioenergy derived from plants, but also from agricultural and urban waste, is sustainable and does not increase pressures on the land. Land and soil are essential but finite resources. So the EU is taking action to encourage sustainable land use and to limit soil degradation and soil sealing. It also promotes the sustainable management of the EU forests and works with other countries around the world to combat deforestation and tackle illegal logging.
The EU also has a strategy to preserve and restore biodiversity so that healthy ecosystems continue to provide us with raw materials such as food, medicines, biomass for energy and construction as well as with the many other ecosystem services that we depend on, such as clean air and fresh water.
In a circular economy, waste that can be recycled is injected back into the economy as secondary raw materials. These materials can be traded and shipped just like primary raw materials but, at present, they still account for only a small proportion of the materials used in the EU. To increase the quantity and quality of these secondary raw materials, waste management must improve, for instance in terms of separate collection and sorting and recycling facilities. The Commission is proposing a review of waste laws to stimulate Europe's transition towards a more circular economy.
The Commission is also aiming to develop EU-wide standards for secondary raw materials so that industries aiming to use them more can be certain of their quality. Another obstacle to the use of secondary raw materials is that certain harmful chemicals remain present in recycling streams. The EU ensures that they get restricted or banned but older products containing such chemicals can still end up in recycling streams. So the Commission is working to improve the tracking of chemicals in products and to boost non-toxic material cycles. It aims to make it easier for smaller recyclers to detect and remove harmful chemicals and for SMEs in general to comply with REACH and find alternatives to the most dangerous chemicals.
The Commission also promotes the reuse of treated wastewater as a means to tackle water scarcity and has proposed a regulation to ease the access of organic and waste-based fertilisers to the EU single market as part of the Circular Economy Action Plan.
- Horizon 2020 funds research and innovation on raw materials to help European economies become more resource efficient and resilient to climate change while remaining competitive.
- The European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials aims to help ensure the sustainable supply of raw materials to the European economy whilst increasing benefits for society as a whole.