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European Legislation and Strategy

The European Circular Economy Package is moving ever closer and will bring with it a range of ambitious waste and resource measures, including increased recycling targets. With the UK due to leave the EU, it is still to be formalised whether the UK will adopt these European measures, or develop a separate UK resource and recycling regime.

With more EU plastic waste recycled than landfilled for the first time in 2016, and with 19 countries reporting over 35% plastic packaging recycling, these new measures are now required to help continue the journey towards a plastic Circular Economy. The Waste Framework Directive has a current target for all member states to reuse or recycle 50% of their household waste by 2020.


Development of The Circular Economy Package

The EU directive for waste management is the Waste Framework Directive. It provided the overarching legislative structure for the management of waste in EU countries, including the current plastics packaging recycling rate for the EU member states. This target is set at 22.5% but has been superseded by a number of EU countries during the past decade. In 2014, the European Commission put forward an initial Circular Economy Package, which was replaced at the end of 2015 by a more ambitious and wider-ranging package which included an action plan for the Circular Economy, as well as legislative proposals amending a number of directives including the Waste Framework Directive and the Packaging Waste Directive.


Measures and Components of The EU Circular Economy Package

The European Circular Economy Package includes a range of measures that will help stimulate Europe's transition towards a Circular Economy, boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs. Within this, the revised legislative proposals on waste set targets for reduction of waste and establish a roadmap for waste management and recycling. Key elements of the revised waste proposal include:

  • A common EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030.
  • A common EU target for recycling 75% of packaging waste by 2030.
  • A binding landfill target to reduce landfill to maximum of 10% of municipal waste by 2030.
  • A ban on landfilling of separately collected waste.
  • Promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling.
  • Simplified and improved definitions and harmonised calculation methods for recycling rates throughout the EU.
  • Measures to promote, re-use and stimulate industrial symbiosis - turning one industry's by-product into another industry's raw material.
  • Economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes.

Since the last 2017 RECOUP Survey, the European Commission adopted a new set of measures, including a Europe-wide EU Strategy for Plastics in the Circular Economy containing an annex to transform the way plastics and plastics products are designed, produced, used and recycled. The Strategy highlights the need for specific measures, possibly a legislative instrument, to reduce the impact of single-use plastics, particularly in our seas and oceans. It also references that all plastics packaging should be recyclable by 2030, and identifies a monitoring framework to assess progress towards Circular Economy goals with ten key indicators set around production, consumption, waste management and secondary raw materials – as well as economic aspects such as investments, jobs and innovation.

A full overview of the EU Circular Economy package and related activities can be found on:

EU Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy Overview


  • Reduce the leakage of plastic in the environment by transforming the way products are designed, manufactured, used and recycled
  • Make better use of taxation and other economic instruments to reward the uptake of secondary plastics
  • Put in place well‐designed EPR schemes, including introducing deposit return incentives, in particular for beverage containers
  • Raise the cost of landfilling and incineration and promote plastic recycling and prevention of use
  • Develop a global response to the increase in marine litter


Current EU Plastic Recycling Performance

The most reliable source for the analysis of European plastics production, demand and resource data is Plastics - the Facts published by the sponsors of the 2018 RECOUP Survey, PlasticsEurope.

In 2016, 27.1 million tonnes of ‘plastic waste’ were collected in the EU28+Norway/Switzerland in order to be treated. This represents a key benchmark with more plastic waste recycled than landfilled for the first time. Within this 16.7 million tonnes of ‘plastics packaging waste’ were collected. From 2006 to 2016, the volume of plastic packaging waste collected for recycling increased by 74%, energy recovery increased by 71% and landfill decreased by 53%.

In 2016, the total EU recycling rate for plastic packaging waste was 40.8%, well above the requested 22.5% of the EU Packaging Waste Directive. This includes 19 countries with a plastic packaging recycling rate above 35%.

The figures below show the recycling, energy recovery and landfill rates across the EU for plastics packaging, and also the country-specific data. The UK is 7th on the recycling rate list, and no country currently achieves the recycling rates outlined in the Circular Economy Package proposals. The German data also incorporates a small amount of feedstock recycling alongside traditional mechanical recycling data. The definition of recycling and standardisation of reporting against new targets across the EU is a key topic of debate. 

There are significant differences in levels of plastic going to energy recovery within Europe. 10 countries with a landfill ban obtained a total recovery rate (recycling + energy recovery) above 90%. Although there is extensive use of energy recovery technologies in these countries, they do also generally achieve higher recycling rates. It is less clear how the energy recovery option may impede potential recycling developments. It also may not fit with longer-term Circular Economy aspirations.

There may be some inconsistency of data reporting across the EU, but this information does provide a useful overall indicator of the approaches to managing post-consumer plastics packaging in the EU.


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