Circular Economy: new EU targets for recycling

Energy, environment
On 18 April 2018, the European Parliament adopted a circular economy package which sets up the ambitious, legally binding goals for recycling and waste management. The proposal introduces a common definition of waste treatment, a single method of measuring the recycling targets across the EU and extends producer responsibility for the entire life cycle of the products. This so-called ‘Waste Package’ is an important part of the shift in EU policy towards a circular economy.

What is the circular economy package about?

The four legislative proposals on waste introduce legally binding goals and deadlines for waste-management targets regarding recycling, re-using and landfilling. The EU’s objective is to promote the prevention of waste and to re-use as many products as possible. If waste is not recycled or recovered properly, it may have an adverse impact on the environment (in particular ecosystems and biodiversity), climate change, human health, as well as the economy.

The data indicates that waste management varies a great deal between Member States. While Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria or Germany are among the top recycling countries, others, especially in the eastern and southern parts of the EU, send almost 80% of their waste to landfill. Similarly, the municipal waste, which represents around 10% of the total waste generated in Europe, differs across the EU. The wealthier the Member State, the more municipal waste per person is produced (with the highest figures in Denmark and Germany, and the lowest in Romania, Poland or Slovakia). However, this is about to change with the arrival of the circular economy package.

What are the main EU targets?

EU Member States will be obliged to reach the following targets:

  • Recycling target for municipal waste (from households and businesses): at least 55% by 2025, 60% by 2030 and 65% by 2035;
  • Recycling target for packaging materials: at least 65% by 2025, and 70% by 2030;
  • Target for municipal waste being deposited in a landfill: no more than 10% by 2035.

The proposal also foresees separate targets for specific materials such as paper, plastics, glass, metal and wood.

Food waste

In accordance with the UN sustainable development goals, the circular economy package also sets up a non-binding food waste target. Member States should make an effort to reduce food waste by 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030.


The circular economy aims to achieve environmentally and economically sustainable growth by reducing waste to a minimum and reusing and recycling existing products as much as possible. Moving towards a more circular economy shifts away from a traditional consumption model which can be defined as “take-make-consume-throw away”.

In December 2015 the European Commission presented its proposal on circular economy, consisting of four legislative proposals on waste and a communication (“Action Plan for the Circular Economy – Closing the loop”). The proposal adopted by the European Parliament on 18 April 2018 will now go back to Council for formal approval before its publication in the Official Journal of the EU.

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