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A New Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe

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What is the new EU Circular Economy Action Plan?

The new Action Plan announces initiatives for the entire life cycle of products, from design and manufacturing to consumption, repair, reuse, recycling, and bringing resources back into the economy. It introduces legislative and non-legislative measures and targets areas where action at the EU level brings added value. The Action Plan is at the core of the European Green Deal, the EU roadmap towards climate-neutrality. Half of total greenhouse gas emissions come from resource extraction and processing. It is not possible to achieve the climate-neutrality target by 2050 without transitioning to a fully circular economy.

The aim of the Action Plan is to reduce the EU’s consumption footprint and double the EU’s circular material use rate in the coming decade, while boosting economic growth. This will be done in full cooperation with stakeholders and business. Applying ambitious circular economy measures in Europe can increase EU’s GDP by an additional 0.5% by 2030 and create around 700,000 new jobs.

What measures are foreseen for products?

At present, many products break down too quickly, cannot be reused, repaired or recycled, or can only be used once. This linear pattern of production and consumption (“take-make-use-dispose”) does not give producers an incentive to make more sustainable products. The Sustainable Product Policy Framework aims to change this situation with actions to make green products become the norm. The rules will also aim to reward manufacturers of products based on their sustainability performance and link high performance levels to incentives.

A new Sustainable Product Policy Framework includes three main building blocks – actions on product design, on empowering consumers and on more sustainable production processes.

What measures do you foresee on design?

The Commission will launch a sustainable product legislative initiative. This initiative will have at its core a proposal to widen the Ecodesign Directive beyond energy-related products. The approach is to make the Ecodesign framework applicable to the broadest possible range of products and make it deliver on circularity.

As part of this legislative initiative, and, where appropriate, through other instruments, the Commission will consider establishing sustainability principles. The new rules will in particular address the need to improve product durability, reusability, upgradability and reparability, addressing the presence of hazardous chemicals in products and increasing the recycled content in products. We will also aim at restricting single-use and countering premature obsolescence. Introducing a ban on the destruction of unsold durable goods will also be part of the measures.

The Commission will launch a European Circular Dataspace to mobilise the potential of digitalisation of product information, introducing for example digital product passports.

What actions are foreseen for consumers and public buyers?

The Commission will work towards strengthening the reparability of products. The aim is to embed a “right to repair” in the EU consumer and product policies by 2021.

The Plan foresees also actions to give consumers more reliable information about products at the point of sale, including on their lifespan and other environmental performance. The Commission will propose that companies substantiate their environmental claims by using Environmental Footprint methodologies. Stricter rules will be proposed to reduce greenwashing and practices such as planned obsolescence.

New measures will increase the uptake of green public procurement, such as introducing minimum mandatory green criteria or targets for public procurement.

How will the transition to a circular economy benefit our economy and contribute to reach the target of climate-neutrality by 2050?

Between 1970 and 2017, the global extraction and processing of materials, such as biomass, fossil fuels, metals and minerals tripled – and it continues to grow, causing greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and water stress.

The circular economy model where value and resources are maintained in the economy for as long as possible and waste generation is minimised, reduces pressures on natural resources.

The circular economy can make a decisive contribution to the decarbonisation of our economy. In the past few years only, several studies have shown the substantial potential of circularity as a tool for climate mitigation.

The Commission will step up the synergies between achieving circularity and climate neutrality. All actions in the Action Plan will contribute to reducing both EU’s carbon and material footprint. In parallel, the Commission will work with Member State to promote circularity in future revisions of the National Energy and Climate Plans (NECP) and in other climate policies.

What does the Plan propose for:

electronics and ICT

The Action Plan proposes setting up a ‘Circular Electronics Initiative’ to promote longer product lifetimes through reusability and reparability as well as upgradeability of components and software to avoid premature obsolescence.

The sector will be a priority area for implementing the ‘right to repair’. The Commission is aiming to adopt new regulatory measures for mobile phones, tablets and laptops under the Ecodesign Directive, as well as new regulatory measures on chargers for mobile phones and similar devices. An EU-wide take back scheme to return or sell back old mobile phones, tablets and chargers will also be considered.

textiles

The Action Plan announces a comprehensive policy framework that will aim to strengthen industrial competitiveness and innovation, boosting the EU market for sustainable and circular textiles, including the market for textile reuse, and driving new business models. 

Textiles are the fourth highest-pressure category for the use of primary raw materials and water, and fifth for greenhouse gas emissions. This future strategy will boost the market for sustainable and circular textiles, including the market for textile reuse. It will support new consumption patterns and business models. The Commission will also provide guidance on separate collection of textile waste, which Member States have to ensure by 2025.

The Commission will work with the industry and market actors to identify bottlenecks in circularity for textiles and stimulate market innovation.

plastics

The Action Plan builds on the 2018 Plastics strategy, and focuses on increasing recycled plastic content. Mandatory requirements on recycled content will be suggested in areas such as packaging, construction materials and vehicles.

The Action Plan addresses also challenges related to microplastics and sourcing and use of bio-based plastics bio-based and biodegradable plastics. On microplastics, the Commission will restrict the intentional adding of microplastics. It will also work on their unintentional release, further developing and harmonising measurement methods, pursuing labelling, certification and regulatory measures, and consider measures to increase the capture of microplastics in wastewater.

construction and buildings

The building sector consumes about 50% of all extracted material and is responsible for more than 35% of the Union’s total waste generation.

The Commission will adopt a new comprehensive Strategy for a Sustainable Built Environment to promote circularity principles throughout the whole lifecycle of buildings. The Commission will propose to revise the Construction Product Regulation, which may include recycled content requirements for certain construction products.

packaging

The amount of materials used for packaging is continuously growing and in 2017 packaging waste in Europe reached 173 kg per inhabitant – the highest level ever.

The Commission will propose measures to ensure that the increase in the generation of packaging waste is reversed as a matter of priority, including by setting targets and other waste prevention measures.

The Commission’s aim is to make all packaging placed on the EU market reusable or recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030. The Commission will propose to reinforce the mandatory essential requirements for all packaging placed on the EU market.

batteries and vehicles

The Commission will propose a new regulatory framework for batteries. It will include measures to improve the collection and recycling rates of all batteries and ensure the recovery of valuable materials, sustainability requirements for batteries, the level of recycled content in new batteries, and the provision of information to consumers.

The Commission will propose the revision of the rules on end-of-life vehicles in order to improve recycling efficiency, as well as rules to address the sustainable tretatement of waste oils

 food

An estimated 20% of the total food produced is lost or wasted in the EU. The Commission will propose a target on food waste reduction as part of the EU Farm-to-Fork Strategy. That Strategy will address the entire food value chain to ensure the sustainability of the sector – strengthening efforts to tackle climate change, protect the environment and preserve biodiversity.

The Commission will launch analytical work to determine the scope of a legislative initiative on reuse to replace single-use food packaging, tableware and cutlery by reusable products in food services.

What measures are foreseen on waste?

Preventing waste from being created in the first place is key. Once waste has been created, it needs to be transformed into high-quality resources.

The Commission will put forward waste reduction targets for more complex streams, and enhance the implementation of the recently adopted requirements for Extended Producer Responsibility schemes, amongst other actions.

The Commission will continue modernising EU waste laws. Rules on waste shipments facilitating recycling or re-use within the EU will be reviewed. This will also aim to restrict exports of waste that cause negative environmental and health impacts in third countries by focusing on countries of destination, problematic waste streams and operations.

The Commission will also consider how to help citizens to sort their waste though an EU-wide harmonised model for separate collection of waste and labelling.

How does the Plan support innovation and investments?

Many EU funds will be mobilised to support the transition to a circular economy – from the EU Cohesion funds, the European Regional Development Fund and the LIFE programme to  spending under the social, research and innovation programmes. 

The Action Plan also includes actions to mobilise private financing in support of the circular economy through EU financial instruments such as InvestEU.

How will the circular economy be promoted at international level?

The Action Plan proposes the launch of a Global Circular Economy Alliance to explore the definition of a ‘Safe Operating Space’, kick-starting a discussion on a possible international agreement on the management of natural resources. Moreover, the Commission will lead efforts at the international level to reach a global agreement on plastics, and promote the uptake of the EU’s circular economy approach on plastics.

The EU will continue to advocate for the circular economy in its free-trade agreements, its bilateral, regional and multilateral policy dialogues and its international and multilateral environmental agreements – for example via Circular Economy Missions to partner countries. The Commission will step up cooperation with other regions, such as Africa.

How will the transition towards a circular economy be monitored?

In 2021, the Commission will update the existing monitoring framework with indicators related to the current action plan and reflecting the interlinkages between circularity, climate neutrality and the zero pollution ambition. Indicators on resource use, including our consumption and material footprints will also be further developed. The Commission will also reinforce the monitoring of circular economy national plans and other national circular economy measures, including under the efforts to refocus the European Semester process towards integrating a stronger sustainability dimension.

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First EU TalentOn brings science to life in competition to solve global challenges

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By  HORIZON STAFF

Criss-crossed by a network of canals, the city of Leiden (pop. 120 000) is just 16km north of Dutch capital The Hague. It has been welcoming scholars since the first university in the Netherlands was established here in the late 16th century.

Recognised as a centre of scientific study from the 17th century onwards, it is fitting then that this year, Leiden is the European City of Science 2022 and the city threw open its doors to the first ever EU TalentOn competition, an event where young academics from all over Europe compete to find the best solutions to major challenges.

The three-day intensive event sees teams of four collaborating to develop new solutions to some of society’s most important challenges in a short timeframe.

The pressure-cooker format means that time is limited so the normally deliberative approach of scientists is thrown out in favour of a fast turnaround time from idea to solution.

Big challenges

The challenges were drawn from the five EU Missions which are Adaptation to Climate Change, Cancer, Restore our Oceans and Waters, 100 Neutral and Smart Cities and a Soil Deal for Europe. The EU Missions pool resources to devise concrete solutions to some of our greatest challenges by 2030. Follow the link for more information about the Horizon EU Missions.

Teams of four competed for cash prizes in each Mission category while the overall winner of the inaugural EU TalentOn as decided by a jury of 18 was a project called ROOTED, by the team SoilFix.

‘We developed a platform that will allow people to restore urban soils in their neighbourhoods or in the vicinity of their buildings’ said Roberta Gatta, the SoilFix spokesperson who explained the project to Horizon Magazine.

Soil community

She describes the purpose of the SoilFix platform. ‘This is a community-based project so people can spot an area in their neighbourhood where they think there is a need for some kind of restoration of the soil. They report it, start crowdfunding and make the transformation happen.’

The platform brings citizens living in urban communities into contact with soil experts who give scientific advice and partners who plan and coordinate the project. Community engagement and expert advice are key to improve soil health because even in urban areas, soil forms a complex ecosystem that needs to be kept in balance.

For example, even soil bacteria have communities and it’s far better if these microorganisms are from the local environment. ‘Our idea was to somehow restore the biodiversity of these soils and to supply local (microbial) strains to the soil,’ said Roberta.

There have also been unfortunate cases where trees planted in an urban area to green it have been welcomed initially but within a few years, the growing roots undermine nearby houses.

Within a couple of days, these four scientific strangers combined their knowledge, worked out the science and business models of the platform, and built a demonstration app they dubbed ROOTED to show how it works. They included educational elements to attract students because they are likely to be involved in such community projects.

‘Our major point is to reduce the concrete in our cities and make our cities greener,’ said Roberta, ‘And more like Leiden, let’s say,’ she said, half-joking.

Greenery lacking

The four members of SoilFix had never met before applying for EU TalentOn. They are from different countries and scientific disciplines but during the early brainstorming sessions, they found they had one thing in common. They each come from cities that have a distinct lack of greenery.

‘This was the first thing we noticed when we arrived in Leiden. The whole idea is based on the difference between Leiden and our cities.’

Beyond the scientific elements, the real challenge for the SoilFix team was to create a product. The EU TalentOn is unique in the way it introduces highly specialised academics to the world of business and challenges them to come up with consumer-facing solutions.

‘We decided to go behind the science and try to create something that everyone could understand, not only scientists. And for us this was the challenge,’ said Roberta. ‘Try something that was not entirely science, but that can share science with people.’

Comfort zones

‘Many of the scientists are challenged to get outside of their comfort zones because usually they might have several months or even years to evolve their research projects,’ said Henrik Scheel, the “Mission Navigator” and head coach for the teams at the EU TalentOn. ‘And now they’re asked in two days to define a problem and come up with a world-changing idea.’

Scheel is based in Silicon Valley, the high-tech innovation hub in California which is home to technology companies like Apple, Google and Intel. ‘Silicon Valley’ is a byword for transformative, rapid innovation. He works as an investor and business founder but also as an educator, coaching students in entrepreneurial skills.

‘I spend most my time working with young innovators around the world on helping them bring their ideas to life,’ says Scheel, ‘And solve big problems in their communities and in their countries and regions.’

With the effects of the pandemic and climate change being keenly felt, amongst other things, have there been any noticeable changes in the world of innovation in recent years in his view?

Changed innovation

One thing that’s clear to him is, ‘People are a lot more ambitious’ now. Investors and entrepreneurs have a new attitude, they want to build businesses that make money while doing good, ‘not just create another app to order pizza or hail a cab,’ said Scheel.

Another feature he’s seeing is that European start-ups will operate in the US and elsewhere but stay rooted in Europe. ‘There’s a lot of collaboration and the world has just become a lot more globalised,’ said Scheel. ‘Teams are born global and stay that way, with distributed teams that are able to grow much faster and be more agile.’

EU TalentOn’s ambition is to promote an entrepreneurial mindset in scientists. The SoilFix team are actively developing their idea to take their idea to the next level. Used to resolving challenges in a lab, they are learning how to navigate the maze of business rules and legal requirements.

But it’s as Scheel tells his students, ‘The bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity.’ He is a big fan of the EU TalentOn format in which academics must think more like entrepreneurs.

‘I do think one of the big opportunities here is to merge these two worlds, the start-up world and the more academic scientific world,’ he said. ‘And by bringing those things together, you can have real scientific projects that are being tested and brought to life much faster than what is currently being done.’

his article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.  

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Fight against human trafficking must be strengthened in Ethiopia

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A group of internally displaced people due to the Tigray conflict gather in a site in Ethiopia's Afar region, Ethiopia. © UNHCR/Alessandro Pasta

Throughout Ethiopia’s Tigray, Afar and Amhar regions, women and girls are becoming increasingly vulnerable to abduction and sex trafficking as they flee ongoing armed conflict, a group of UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Monday.

The protracted conflict in the three northern regions have heightened risks of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a form of sexual violence in conflict, the experts said in a statement.

“We are alarmed by reports of refugee and internally displaced women and girls in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions being abducted while attempting to move to safer places,” they said.

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“We are concerned at the risks of trafficking, in particular for purposes of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.” 

Women and children in crosshairs

Amidst abductions and displacement, the UN experts raised serious concerns over Eritrean refugee women and children being at particular risk of sex trafficking.

“Urgent action is needed to prevent trafficking, especially for purposes of sexual exploitation, and to ensure assistance and protection of all victims, without discrimination on grounds of race or ethnicity, nationality, disability, age or gender,” they said.  

Meanwhile, the hundreds of children who have been separated from their families, especially in the Tigray region, are particularly vulnerable, warned the independent experts.

“The continuing lack of humanitarian access to the region is a major concern,” the experts continued, urging immediate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent all forms of trafficking of children and to ensure their protection.

Identifying victims

They added that sufficient measures were not being taken to identify victims of trafficking, or support their recovery in ways that fully takes account of the extreme trauma being suffered.

“The failure to provide accountability for these serious human rights violations and grave crimes creates a climate of impunity, allows trafficking in persons to persist and perpetrators to go free,” underscored the six UN experts.

They urged all relevant stakeholders to ensure that victims of trafficking can adequately access medical assistance, including sexual and reproductive healthcare services and psychological support.

The experts said they had made their concerns known to both the Governments of Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea.

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35 years of Cultural Routes: Safeguarding European Values, Heritage, and Dialogue

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A Europe rich in history, heritage, dialogue and values: the Council of Europe Cultural Routes’ programme celebrates its 35th anniversary, on the occasion of the 11th Advisory Forum in Minoa Palace Hotel, Chania, Crete (Greece) on 5-7 October, with a special event to highlight the relevance of Cultural Routes for the promotion of cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and sustainable tourism.

The Forum is organised by the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and the European Institute of Cultural Routes, in co-operation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization, the Region of Crete, the Municipality of Chania, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Chania, and the Historic Cafes Route. The 2022 edition will be the opportunity to underline the growing relevance of the Cultural Routes methodology and practices in promoting Europe’s shared cultural heritage while fostering viable local development.

Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge will participate in the high-level dialogue, together with Minister of Culture and Sports of Greece Lina Mendoni, Minister of Tourism of Greece Vassilis Kikilias, Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Vice-President and Chairperson of the Greek Delegation Dora Bakoyannis and Chair of the Statutory Committee of Cultural Routes Ambassador Patrick Engelberg (Luxembourg). 

Over three days of workshops and interactive debates, three main general sessions will be explored:

  1. Promoting European Values and Intercultural Dialogue;
  2. Safeguarding Heritage in Times of Crisis;
  3. Fostering Creative Industries, Cultural Tourism, Innovative Technologies for Sustainable Communities.

The Forum will discuss trends and challenges in relation to Cultural Routes, providing a platform for sharing experiences, reviewing progress, analysing professional practices, launching new initiatives and developing partnerships across Europe and beyond. Participants range from managers among the 48 cultural routes to representatives of national ministries, International Organisations, academics, experts and tourism professionals.

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