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'Transition to circular economy has virtually come to a standstill despite European billions'

By Caitlyn Terra


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Circular Textile Days. Credits: FashionUnited / Sylvana Lijbaart

The 10 billion euros that EU member states have received to stimulate the circular economy have "ended up in the waste bin". The vast majority of the budget was spent on waste management, rather than on innovations to reduce the amount of waste, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) concluded in a study.

The billions were intended to drive green innovation between 2016 and 2020 and help companies accelerate the transition to reuse. There is a target on the table to reuse twice as many materials in Europe by 2030. Achieving this goal has become "an impossible task" due to the current spending of the billions.

The bulk of the grant went to waste management, while preventing waste through circular design would have been a more effective measure, according to the Court.

“Preserving materials and minimising waste are essential if the EU wants to become resource efficient and achieve the environmental objectives of its Green Deal,” said ECA member Annemie Turtelboom. “But EU action has been so far powerless, meaning the circular transition is unfortunately almost at a standstill in European countries.”

Auditors concluded that the EU’s target of doubling its share of material recycled and fed back into the economy by 2030 looks “very challenging”.

Circular design key

Experts have indicated for years that the beginning of a circular economy lies with the design of products and that in this phase it is necessary to think about what happens to the product at the end of the user phase.

The study shows that the average percentage of recycled products in all 27 EU Member States has only increased by 0.4 percentage point. Steps were even taken back in seven countries: Lithuania, Sweden, Romania, Denmark, Luxembourg, Finland, and Poland

Positive feedback can still be seen in the Netherlands and Belgium. In the Netherlands, for example, the circular share of material consumption has increased by almost 34 percent by 2021. It is therefore quite possible that the Netherlands will achieve the target of 50 percent reuse of materials in 2030. This puts the country at the top of the 27 member states. Belgium follows after the Netherlands and shows a percentage of 20.5 percent.

The circular transition in the EU countries has virtually come to a standstill, said Annemie Turtelboom of the Court of Auditors in the report. After all, little evidence has been found that the investments in innovation that were started with the subsidy money have actually contributed to a circular economy. “It is crucial that the EU conserves materials and minimises waste. This will enable it to use resources efficiently and achieve the environmental goals of the Green Deal.”

This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.NL. Translation and edit by Rachel Douglass.

Circular Economy
Green Deal
Sustainable Fashion