Open letter to the European Commission on keeping up the ambition in times of energy crisis

05 December 2022

Together with 29 other organisations and associations, Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) sent an open letter to the President of the European Commission, the Executive-Vice-President, the Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries and the Commissioner for lnternal Market on the topic of the current energy crisis. In the letter, the signatories state their concerns regarding the European project not being capable of delivering on its objectives of peace, prosperity, and equality with the current policies. The signatories urge the Commission to redouble its efforts to increase resource efficiency and decarbonise production and consumption. Consequently, the policies on circularity and net-zero should be reinforced and remain at the top of the EU agenda.

With the 1,5°C warming limit, the Paris Agreement indirectly sets a cap on the carbon budget for the EU;
respecting it not only requires carbon neutrality and circularity, but also a reduction in resource consumption. Evidence shows that industry sectors such as plastic, cement, and steel are projected to use far more resources than those compatible with our climate goals – even when pushing recycling and decarbonisation levers to the extreme. Achieving an absolute reduction in natural resource use is a blind spot in current climate and sustainability strategies. Reducing resource use is unavoidable given the scale of the challenge we face – and the longer we wait to address the issue, the harder it will be to solve.

The letter asks calls on the European Commission to:

  1. Set general and sectoral targets for reduction in resource use in line with the Paris
    Agreement’s commitments, and introduce waste prevention targets.
  2. Plan for a radical scale-up for reuse and second-hand infrastructure for consumer goods in
    key sectors – i.e. packaging (including all beverages, e-commerce, takeaway food, food retail,
    cosmetics and cleaning products), textiles, and electronics – accompanied with ambitious
    legally-binding targets and due monitoring processes. On packaging in particular, provide clear
    guidance and harmonisation for reusable formats and the systems needed to operate these to
    ensure that these are run effectively, locally or regionally, at scale, and backed by strong hygiene and
    safety measures.
  3. Create real incentives for dematerialisation and better resource use. This includes promoting,
    financially supporting, and creating legal certainty for business models which are local and designing
    out waste; shifting taxes from labour to resources, expanding Extended Producer Responsibility
    (EPR) to all products and organise EPR fees not only around cost coverage but also to incentivise
    design change; mandating pay as you throw (PAYT), among many others.).
  4. Design products to be durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable, toxic-free and
    and target overproduction and planned obsolescence via the Ecodesign for
    Sustainable Products Legislation (ESPR).
  5. Declare fossil fuels a scarce strategic resource and ration/use them wisely. We must stop using
    them for non-essential operations such as single-use plastics or fast-fashion textiles.
  6. Shift the burden of proof from consumers to producers when it comes to the safety of
    materials by making producers liable for their lack of transparency and any unknown impacts of
    new materials placed in the market.
  7. Create efficient markets for safe secondary raw materials and phase-out products which
    cannot be repaired or recycled with existing infrastructure.
  8. Set ambitious residual waste targets, thus sending a clear signal to producers that the era of
    linear economy personified by waste is coming to an end.
  9. Introduce harmonised environmental criteria in all policies related to the circular economy
    and further develop the holistic approach needed to meet our long-term objectives.
  10. Stop the construction of new waste disposal facilities, direct instead all the efforts into reducing
    resource use and waste generation.

You can read the full text of the letter here.