Steps taken to eliminate barriers to the circular economy

Steps taken to eliminate barriers to the circular economy

Two new initiatives, from the European Commission and the Dutch government respectively, aim to eliminate legal barriers that hold up the cross-border trade in raw materials obtained from waste, and illustrate the benefits for the circular economy of cooperation between regulators. This is in line with the EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy, a programme of measures covering the whole cycle: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials.

The initiatives seek to ensure that raw materials obtained from waste have a similar legal status in different European Union countries. This harmonised treatment means that there will be no obstacles to shipping secondary raw materials to the eco-innovative companies or facilities that can best make use of them, whichever country those companies are based in.

North Sea Circular

The first initiative is the North Sea Resources Roundabout, a “Green Deal” initiated by the Dutch government and signed on 3 March by Belgium (Flanders), France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Through the roundabout, participating countries work to align their definitions of secondary raw materials and to ensure there are no unnecessary barriers to shipments of secondary raw materials to other participating countries.

The North Sea Resources Roundabout is taking a case-by-case approach, looking at particular waste streams to see how they can be reused and what the barriers are. An initial area is the processing of the ash left over when waste is incinerated. Rotterdam-based company Inashco has developed a technology to sort through the ash and obtain tiny specks of valuable metals and minerals, such as aluminium and silver. However, the international transport of pre-treated bottom ash is subject to complex regulations in different countries. The North Sea Resources Roundabout has worked to ensure that the participating countries can ship their leftovers to Inashco, thus ensuring a regular supply of raw material for the company.

Similar exercises under the North Sea Resources Roundabout are underway to ensure that recyclable PVC and compost for processing into fertiliser can also be shipped between participating countries without undue barriers.

Biowaste for fertilisers

Meanwhile, the European Commission on 17 March proposed to revise the EU Fertilisers Regulation ((EC) No 2003/2003), which sets common standards for fertilisers in the European single market, but which is targeted at conventional, non-organic fertilisers that are usually extracted from mines or produced chemically.

The revision of the Fertilisers Regulation would seek to ensure that fertilisers from biowaste are treated at least equally to conventional fertilisers. The revised regulation would allow fertilisers from biowaste to be marked with the ‘CE’ (Conformité Européenne) label if they meet minimum quality and safety standards, and would ensure that biowaste destined for inclusion in fertilisers is not considered to be “waste,” thus removing a barrier to its reuse. The CE marking of products demonstrates that they conform with EU minimum standards.

According to the European Commission, “recycled bio-waste could substitute up to 30% of inorganic fertilisers,” which would mark a radical change from the current situation in which only 5% of waste organic material is used in this way. Fertilisers based on biowaste would also “improve soil structure, soil biodiversity and soil carbon sink.”

The revision of the Fertilisers Regulation must be agreed by the European Parliament and EU member states before it can take effect. Initiatives such as the North Sea Resources Roundabout and the Fertilisers Regulation update could benefit eco-innovative companies looking to take advantage of secondary raw material flows within the emerging circular economy.

Further information:

The North Sea Resources Roundabout: http://www.greendeals.nl/north-sea-resources-roundabout/

Inashco: http://www.inashco.com

Proposals to revise the EU Fertilisers Regulation: http://ec.europa.eu/DocsRoom/documents/15949

The EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/index_en.htm