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Blog: leaving the EU and the circular economy package

9th February 2017

Liz Watson

Leaving the EU...how does this effect your environmental compliance?

Current position: The UK is still a member of the EU; once we file our Article 50 notification we will have 2 years in which to negotiate a deal to leave the EU. During this time, we will remain members of the EU and EU laws will still apply. It has been announced that the aim is to file the Article 50 notification by the end of March 2017.

The government’s Brexit White Paper which was recently published confirmed that the current framework of environmental regulation set out in EU Directives will be transposed into UK and devolved law in the Great Repeal Bill. This means that all EU legislation will be directly transposed into UK law. Importantly, the government’s Brexit White Paper states that the Great Repeal Bill will include environmental controls such as Packaging, WEEE and Batteries producer legislation. All of this legislation will continue to apply once we leave the EU, at least until such time as the UK is able (or so desires) to put into place alternative legislation.

“The Government is committed to ensuring we become the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. We will use the Great Repeal Bill to bring the current framework of environmental regulation into UK and devolved law.” – Brexit White Paper, 2 Feb 2017

On the horizon…the Circular Economy Package

Following the announcement of the Great Repeal Bill in October 2016 there has been an increased focus on new EU legislation which may be adopted into EU law before the UK leaves the EU and will therefore be transposed into UK law. One example is the Circular Economy Package. It appears likely that the Circular Economy Package will be adopted before the end of the two year withdrawal process and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) recently announced that it continues to work under the assumption that the Circular Economy Package will apply to the UK post-Brexit. So, with this in mind, what is the Circular Economy Package?

What is the Circular Economy?

In a circular economy products and the materials they contain are highly valued, unlike in a traditional, linear economic model, based on a ‘take, consume, throw away’ pattern. In practise this means reducing waste to a minimum, as well as re-using, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products. Rather than thinking waste. Think resource.

The EU see’s moving toward a circular economy as delivering benefits, including “reduced pressures on the environment, enhanced security of supply of raw materials, increased competitiveness, innovation, growth and jobs”. - EPRS Briefing January 2016

What is the Circular Economy Package?

The Circular Economy Package has been created to add momentum to support the transition towards a more circular economy in the EU.

The Circular Economy Package includes legislative proposals to:

  • Introduce new waste-management targets for reuse, recycling and landfilling
  • Strengthen focus on the prevention of waste and extended producer responsibility

The European Waste management targets include increasing recycling rates to 70% by 2030 (this is a significant increase from the previous target of 65% proposed in the 2015 package). This ambitious target comes just a short time after UK recycling rates decreased for the first time ever, meaning the UK may fail to meet the current EU target of 50% by 2020 (43.9% in 2015).


The graph above shows proposed and actual recycling rates for municipal waste (from households and businesses) in the EU.

The proposed 70% recycle or re-use target applies to packaging materials including paper and cardboard, plastics, glass, metal and wood. So, what should producers expect? Although uncertain, the higher recycling and re-use targets will increase pressure on governments to increase recycling rates and may increase the costs of compliance for producers.

There is a trend toward incentives to recycle packaging and repair EEE as well as a focus on re-use and repair activities through improved product design.

Before the Circular Economy Package is passed into EU law, all three European Institutions (Council, Parliament and Commission) must have an agreed stance. This is unlikely to happen until the second half of 2017 but may be achieved before the UK leaves the EU in 2019.