Comprehensive actions are needed

Truck working in landfill with birds in the sky

Waste management alone is not everything. Education and innovativeness are equally important.

The current term of office of the European institutions is coming to an end. Being in a similar period five years ago, we had a proposal of the previous European Commission (EC) concerning the closed-loop economy on the table, which, however, for the most part, focused on waste.

From today’s perspective, we already know that this is only one element of the life cycle. And appropriate actions should also be undertaken in the remaining scope (i.e. in relation to the acquisition of raw materials, the design process as well as production, distribution and consumption).

Broader perspective

That is why, in 2015, the new EC presented a package related to circular economy, consisting of draft waste directives and an action plan entitled „Closing the cycle …”. In the latter, EC announced several dozen initiatives which it intended to implement in the following years. From today’s perspective and after the experience of working on individual projects from this list, we are certain that circular economy should be implemented not only at all stages of the life cycle, but also in cooperation, which will lead to the creation of beneficial and feasible solutions, including those taking into account our national realities and the specificity of the Polish economy.

Already in the middle of 2016. Poland, together with other EU Member States, agreed to continue working on the EC’s proposals regarding circular economy. We understood that this is the right direction and, to put it shortly, that we should focus on improving the raw material efficiency of our economy and strive for a better waste management. This does not mean, however, that we saw only the benefits of individual proposals, examples of which are set out below.

The provisions of the Fertiliser Regulation, which is intended to increase the use of products from the processing of plant and animal waste for fertilisation, are still to be determined. The planned regulations – through restrictive provisions on pollution – may adversely affect Polish fertiliser manufacturers that play an important role in the domestic chemical industry.

Similar doubts arise, for example, within the framework of the European Commission’s pilot study on calculating the environmental footprint, i.e. methodologies thanks to which it is possible to examine the negative impact of a product on the environment. If the results of these works are used in the future to create regulations binding in the European Union, it may lead to deterioration of the situation of the Polish industry due to fossil raw materials used for energy production in Poland.

Poland’s activities

Poland is also facing an extremely ambitious goal when it comes to the adoption of Polish legislation implementing the directives on waste, the provisions of which were established by the European institutions in the middle of this year. Brussels expects to achieve 55% recovery and recycling of municipal waste by 2025 and 65% by 2035.

Equally high recycling targets of up to 70% have been introduced for packaging waste. This means that many believe that current waste solutions are not sufficient and that completely new methods of both collection and management of municipal waste need to be introduced. Let’s take the examples of the already existing deposit systems for packaging in some EU countries, or the obligation to separate raw material waste into more fractions, which need to be given at least some consideration.

On the other hand, it should be remembered that waste management alone is not everything. Education and innovativeness are equally important. It should be noted that in 2018 a new National Intelligent Specialisation related to circular economy was created, which may significantly support the transformation towards creating circular economy in Poland.

It should also be noted that some of the elements identified in the EC’s Action Plan are reflected in actions initiated by particular countries. Let us take, as an example, the Programme for the Hard Coal Mining Sector adopted in January this year, which is part of the European ambition to develop better mining waste management plans. As part of the Programme, it is also planned to create Jastrzębski Energy Cluster, which would intensify activities related to methane demethylation in the mines.

Another Polish initiative, developed long before the European proposals and which may now be a good practice and model for other countries, is the exemption from value added tax of donations made by producers of food products, which has been in force since 2009. Such initiatives should be noticed, as they are good examples of the implementation of circular economy at the national level, also if they were introduced before the EC proposals.

How to measure progress

Whether we are prepared for the changes resulting from the European proposals in the field of circular economy and whether we will be able to measure the changes we are facing is another challenge we must be ready to tackle. In January 2018, the European Commission announced the so-called monitoring framework for circular economy, which, as it may be assumed, will become the basis for evaluating progress in this area in the future.

However, it should be said that this is not an ideal system as, for instance, it does not even include a distinction between mechanisms for measuring the transformation stage in relation to the set objectives and measuring the impact of this transformation on social and economic development.

In this respect, the attempt undertaken by Poland to create a national index for measuring the transformation towards introduction of circular economy and its impact is worth noting. Thanks to this, Poland will be able not only to implement circular economy – regardless of the requirements in force – but also to measure the progress of the implementation of circular economy’s concepts in our country.

– The author is an expert on sustainable development and closed-loop economy.

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