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european parliament, circular economy package

With its circular economy package, the European Commission released a set of initiatives to speed up the transition towards a circular economy. The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) welcomed the Package as a potential game-changer but stressed the need for swift action to reduce our emissions and resource use while respecting planetary boundaries and human rights.

Stéphane Arditi, Director of Policy Integration and Circular Economy at the EEB, said: “This package could help drive the much-needed market and industry transformations to achieve a resource-efficient, sustainable and fair economy – but it still lacks teeth to truly make sustainable products the default choice for all.”

Sustainable products and Ecodesign

The Sustainable Products communication lays out a number of measures targeting the sustainability of products sold on the EU market, and the Commission restated its ambition to make sustainable products the norm.

The Circular Economy Package also includes a legislative proposal to unleash the potential of Ecodesign, extending its scope to virtually all products placed on the market, and opening the door to new innovative measures such as carbon and environmental footprinting of products, the development of a Digital Product Passport, and impact consideration beyond EU borders.

However, the new regulation will only deliver results through the delegated acts established for specific product groups. These will take time to establish, notably as the Commission foresees a limited increase in staff working on product policy. Opportunities to deliver results from the onset, such as an immediate ban on the destruction of unsold goods, were not taken. Moreover, the proposal fails to address and disclose social and due diligence aspects within the Product Passport.

The circular economy package consists of:

  • A Sustainable Products Initiative aimed at boosting the circularity of products on the EU market, including a reform of Ecodesign laws
  • A Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles
  • A proposal for the revision of the Construction Products Regulation (CPR)
  • New rules to reinforce the consumer power.

 

Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, Policy officer for products and circular economy at the EEB, said: “Applying Ecodesign to a broader set of products will save Europe emissions, resources, and increase our resilience, but we are still a long way from these measures being put into practice.”

Sustainable textiles

The ‘Textiles Strategy’ sets out the European Commission’s plans for new policies to bring more sustainability to one of the world’s most polluting, wasteful, and exploitative sectors.

The EEB welcomes the clear plans for binding rules on product design, targets for more reused textile products, and for more weight on producers to bear the end–of–life costs of textile waste. However, the EEB calls on policymakers to ensure strong civil society participation in the development of the initiatives announced in the Strategy, and to enhance measures that tackle human rights abuses in supply chains, a clear blind spot in today’s text.

Emily Macintosh, Policy Officer for Textiles at the EEB, said: “You can’t green fast fashion. Today the European Commission has named overproduction as the problem by calling out the number of collections brands put out every year. Now we need to ensure that the actions set out in this strategy are translated into real industrial accountability for all companies regardless of size and that there are no get-out clauses when it comes to the destruction of goods and ensuring fairness for workers.”

Construction products

Despite larger advancements in other files, the Construction Products Regulation revision inches forward in regards to alignment with the Sustainable Products Initiative and the Circular Economy Package. Faced with rising demands for a Renovation Wave, the CPR continues to set a lower bar for construction products. Although product requirements could be developed in the current proposal, a timeline to define minimum sustainability/environmental performance requirements has yet to be set, nor is it mandatory to disclose these requirements transparently using digital product passports.

NGOs have continuously warned such lack of ambition is especially concerning for an industry desperately in need of decarbonization, as the source of 35% of EU emission. The lack of ambition is most evident in a continued allowance of manufacturers to set environmental standards and classes of performance for products’ functional performance (i.e. the way products are used in projects). The reliance on industrial standards leaves the door open for dominant industry players to agree on the lowest common denominator that stifles innovations and SMEs.

Gonzalo Sánchez, Policy Officer for Circular Economy and Carbon Neutrality in the Building Sector at the EEB, said: “Defining a work plan to set minimum environmental performance requirements as soon as possible and a mandatory Digital Products Passport for construction products are key to decarbonizing Europe’s built environment by 2050. Postponing these actions will mean an insurmountable task in the next decade to decarbonize the building stock, due to the delay in implementing circular measures and investing in low-emission materials.”

Empowering consumers

The Initiative on ‘Empowering the Consumer for the Green Transition’ is set to strengthen existing EU legislation to prevent greenwashing and reduce obsolescence, by amending both the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) and the Consumer Rights Directive (CRD).

The proposal aims to improve the credibility of sustainability claims and labels – a measure highly called for, as recent research showed that 42% of green claims are potentially false or deceptive. Moreover, new rules on information provisions regarding the length of warranty periods, the availability of spare parts, and software updates, are meant to help consumers understand the expected lifespan of the products they purchase.

The EEB welcomes the measures as a much–needed step to stop greenwashing, but warned about possible loopholes: the initiative fails to clarify how some of the most problematic and widespread claims such as “climate neutrality” are going to be tackled, while the foreseen ban on planned obsolescence was dropped from the proposal.

The circular economy package is a fundamental step forward but still lacks teeth to make sustainable products the norm, the EEB warns

Blanca Morales, a Senior Coordinator for EU Ecolabel at the EEB, said: “We need bolder measures to prohibit unreliable credentials, especially on climate neutrality, and list those that are based on harmonized, robust methods. We call on the Commission to reinforce these provisions in the upcoming regulation on Green Claims. Companies should be obliged to publicly register their claims and evidence before use. No data, no market!”

 

fertilizer from bioplastic

Japanese scientists produced fertilizer from bioplastic. Bioplastics can be chemically recycled into nitrogen-rich fertilizers in a facile and environmentally friendly way, as recently demonstrated by scientists from Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech). Their findings pave the way towards sustainable circular systems that simultaneously address issues such as plastic pollution, petrochemical resource depletion, and world hunger.

Plastics have taken the world by storm over the last century, finding applications in virtually every aspect of our lives. However, the rise of these synthetic polymers, which form the basis of plastics, has contributed to many serious environmental issues. The worst of these is the excessive use of petrochemical compounds and the disposal of non-biodegradable materials without recycling; only 14% of all plastic waste is recycled, which hardly puts a dent in the problem.

Fertilizer from bioplastic a circular process

To solve the plastic conundrum, we need to develop “circular” systems, in which the source materials used to produce the plastics come full circle after disposal and recycling. At Tokyo Institute of Technology, a team of scientists led by Assistant Professor Daisuke Aoki and Professor Hideyuki Otsuka is pioneering a novel concept. In their new environmentally friendly process, plastics produced using biomass (bioplastics) are chemically recycled back into fertilizers. This study will be published in Green Chemistry, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry focusing on innovative research on sustainable and eco-friendly technologies.

The team focused on poly (isosorbide carbonate), or “PIC,” a type of bio-based polycarbonate that has garnered much attention as an alternative to petroleum-based polycarbonates. PIC is produced using a non-toxic material derived from glucose called isosorbide (ISB) as a monomer. The interesting part is that the carbonate links that join the ISB units can be severed using ammonia (NH3) in a process known as ‘ammonolysis’. The process produces urea, a nitrogen-rich molecule that is widely used as a fertilizer. While this chemical reaction was no secret to science, few studies on polymer degradation have focused on the potential uses of all the degradation products instead of only the monomers.

First, the scientists investigated how well the complete ammonolysis of PIC could be conducted in water at mild conditions (30°C and atmospheric pressure). The rationale behind this decision was to avoid the use of organic solvents and excessive amounts of energy. The team carefully analyzed all the reaction products through various means, including nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, the Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, and gel permeation chromatography.

Although they managed to produce urea in this way, the degradation of PIC was not complete even after 24 hours, with many ISB derivatives still present. Therefore, the researchers tried increasing the temperature and found that complete degradation could be achieved in about six hours at 90°C! Dr. Aoki highlights the benefits of this approach, “The reaction occurs without any catalyst, demonstrating that the ammonolysis of PIC can be easily performed using aqueous ammonia and heating. Thus, this procedure is operationally simple and environmentally friendly from the viewpoint of chemical recycling.”

Finally, as a proof-of-concept that all PIC degradation products can be directly used as a fertilizer, the team conducted plant growth experiments with Arabidopsis thaliana, a model organism. They found that plants treated with all PIC degradation products grew better than plants treated with just urea.

The overall results of this study showcase the feasibility of developing fertilizer-from-plastics systems (Figure 1). The systems can not only help fight off pollution and resource depletion but also contribute to meeting the world’s increasing food demands. Dr. Aoki concludes on a high note, “We are convinced that our work represents a milestone toward developing sustainable and recyclable polymer materials in the near future. The era of ‘bread from plastics’ is just around the corner!”

plastic to fertilizer

Figure 1. A fertilizer-from-plastics circular system
Using the degradation products of PIC as a nitrogen-rich fertilizer closes a sustainable loop that makes bioplastics a much more attractive option for addressing the environmental issues posed by conventional petroleum-based plastics.
Image credit: Daisuke Aoki from Tokyo Institute of Technology

sharing cities sweden

The national program Sharing Cities Sweden closed at the end of August 2021. The program has been an important element of Viable Cities, the strategic innovation program for smart and sustainable cities. The program has placed much focus on how city governments can facilitate the sharing of things, services, places and mobility.

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