Will the circular economy fly us to the moon?

(EurActiv, 31 May 2021) Increased recycling has come at the expense of greener activities like reuse. The European Union now needs to adopt a multidimensional approach to tackle Europe’s waste problem and move towards circularity, writes Joan Marc Simon.

Joan Marc Simon is the executive director of the NGO, Zero Waste Europe.

“When a wise man points at the moon, the imbecile examines the finger.” This famous quote from Confucius could be applied to the last 40 years of waste legislation in the EU – and it is interesting to take a closer look at it as the activities of this year’s EU Green Week unfold under the motto ‘Zero Pollution for healthier people and planet’.

Waste management in the 80s and 90s was mainly a public health issue, and the purpose of legislation was to reduce the impact of waste disposal operations on the communities nearby. Those were the days of the EU landfill directive and the push for incineration. In the 2000s, the idea of recycling gained traction and, in 2008, the EU approved recycling targets of 50% for 2020 whilst continuing to push for incineration.

In 2014, we realised that accelerating the pace in a linear economy was a one-way street; this epiphany was branded the Circular Economy. This stopped the incineration fever and the focus was put on recycling. Then came the time of directives on plastic bags and single-use plastics, which pinpointed that waste pollution was not a waste management issue after all.

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EurActiv, 31 May 2021: Will the circular economy fly us to the moon?