Cohesion policy support for the circular economy

The European Commission adopted the Circular Economy Action Plan in 2015 which established a long-term approach to promote waste prevention, increase recycling and reuse, and reduce landfilling and incineration. It also sets out measures to help businesses, citizens and public authorities benefit from the transition to a stronger and greener economy.

The circular economy aims to ‘close the loop’ of product lifecycles by keeping resources within the economy, which leads to better use of raw materials, products and waste. It contributes to meeting the EU’s environmental and climate objectives, and stimulates local and regional development. Waste prevention, eco-design and similar measures create savings, increase turnover and create local jobs, for instance in the reuse, re-manufacturing, repair and product innovation sectors.

How much funding in 2014-2020?

EU cohesion policy is key to making the circular economy a reality. In the investment framework for 2014-2020, there is significant funding for waste management. There is also support for the circular economy in innovation, SME competitiveness, resource efficiency and low-carbon investments. The planned investments can be explored in the Open Data Platform.

The funds leverage additional private funding and are complemented by other EU funding sources, such as Horizon 2020, LIFE and COSME.

Where do the investments go?

Cohesion policy investments are geared towards local needs and opportunities. They contribute to:

  • more recycling,
  • improved waste management,
  • resource and energy efficiency,
  • strengthening the bio-economy,
  • novel solutions in product design,
  • new business models,
  • and the creation of green jobs.

For improved waste management, we have €4.3 billion focusing on waste prevention, reuse and recycling. We also invest in basic waste treatment infrastructure in less developed regions. This means 4.5 million tonnes/year of additional waste recycling capacity in Europe.

For SMEs, we invest €1.5 billion in environmentally-friendly production processes and resource efficiency. This helps them save costs and creates new opportunities by turning waste into a resource.

Important research and innovation funding opportunities are available too, for instance to develop new and better products. Regions from all Member States identified priorities related to circular economy in their Smart Specialisation Strategies. The Smart Specialisation Platform helps these regions to cooperate with others along value chains, also on specific topics such as industrial modernisation, agri-food and energy.

The Circular Economy Package also promotes water reuse. Several regions in the EU already recycle their treated wastewater for park irrigation, street cleaning or to replenish groundwater reserves. Cohesion policy can support this further, through its €14 billion investment in the water sector during the 2014-2020 period.

Project examples

Closing the waste cycle in the Slovenian capital: With the help of EU funds, Slovenia is reaching its recycling targets and the citizens of Ljubljana have better, more sustainable waste management. Since joining the EU, the Slovenian capital has boosted separate collection and recycling, and reduced the amount of waste sent to landfill by 59%. It also invested in prevention and reuse. Ljubljana now generates 41% less waste per capita than the European average and decided not to build two new incinerators as originally planned. One of the key elements of the integrated waste system is the Ljubljana Regional Waste Management Centre. This EU-funded project started as a facility for 17 municipalities. Later, 20 more municipalities joined, renouncing the need for an additional treatment plant.

Creating a new biodegradable fabric: A Czech company developed a unique biodegradable material and increased its productivity by a factor of four. The material, developed by STAVOS Chlumec n. Cidl and the University of Hradec Králové, can be used in the manufacture of flowerpots that make it much easier to plant trees without destroying their root systems or burdening the environment as they decompose in the soil. EU funds co-invested in a project to upscale this innovation to the production stage.

Supporting waste-free design across North-West Europe: Cradle to Cradle is a design approach for products and systems, where materials circulate in a ‘waste-free metabolism’. A transnational project developed instruments and guidelines to help implement Cradle to Cradle principles in product manufacturing, the construction of large buildings and the organisation of living and working areas. It received €4.5 million of support from the North-West Europe Interreg Programme and involved 11 European public authorities, knowledge institutions, NGOs and business actors.

More project examples can be found here.

A strategic policy approach going beyond funding

Cohesion policy is not only about money. It offers a policy framework for integrated regional development focusing on the particular strengths of each region to deliver the circular economy. It works in partnership with actors on the ground and helps regional authorities with capacity-building.

Cross-border and transnational cooperation programmes are crucial to foster interregional cooperation on circular economy activities. Such projects promote industrial symbiosis, awareness-raising and the exchange of knowledge and best practices.
The circular economy is also one of the 12 themes of the Urban Agenda for the EU. Cities will work with the Commission, Member States and other partners on waste, resource efficiency and the sharing economy.

Driving the change via Green Public Procurement

Public procurement, which accounts for approximately 14% of European consumption, can play a key role in the circular economy. The Commission encourages this role through its actions on Green Public Procurement (GPP), which helps to stimulate a critical mass of demand for more sustainable goods and services. The use of GPP in EU cohesion policy funding can be a good way to integrate resource efficiency and sustainable development across all priorities.


How can you get support?

The various cohesion policy programmes adopted in 2014 and 2015 specify the funding opportunities for all Member States and regions until 2020. Member States run the programmes, via Managing Authorities. These give information on the programmes, select projects and assist implementation. On this website you can read the programmes and discover the contacts of your Managing Authorities.