European and Italian
Regulatory Framework

European framework

Circular Economy is a proactive solution to the crisis of the linear economic system, which is inefficient and highly impactful from an environmental point of view. Fostering the transition from a linear to a circular model requires ambitious policies, supported by a clear legislative framework that can provide appropriate signals to each economic actor.


Circular Economy is one of the priorities of the European Agenda. Commitment to this theme took shape in 2015 with the Action Plan for the Circular Economy, and was renewed in March 2020, when the European Commission presented the Action Plan for a New Circular Economy.  While in 2015 the Commission gave more attention to the plastics sector, waste and recycling, now the approach to circularity extends to sustainable product design, where all actors in society, businesses and citizens, are involved in achieving climate neutrality. Resource-intensive sectors, such as electronics and information and communication technology, plastics, textiles and construction, enjoy specific attention.


The new EU proposals have some key elements and common goals to be achieved by 2030. These include:

  • Achieving 65% recycling of municipal waste, 75% for packaging waste by 2030; reducing landfilling for all waste to no more than 10%;
  • Ban landfilling of waste from separate collection and promote economic instruments to discourage it;
  • Take concrete measures to promote reuse, turning waste products from one industry into raw materials for another and promoting economic incentives to support recovery and recycling systems.


What’s new?

As we have said, there is not only room in the European strategy for waste recovery and recycling; in fact, the Circular Economy must be an added value for all. This is committing the European Commission to making European citizens and companies more environmentally aware through directives that encourage sustainability and circularity, ensuring that products are designed to last longer and be used multiple times until it is recycled, making consumers responsible for what they are buying and companies responsible for the amount of waste created by their production.


Some of the proposed directives:


1.  Proposed Regulation for Ecodesign of Sustainable Products:

  • New ecodesign standards to ensure sustainable, safe and recyclable products through the integration of environmental assessments at the product design stage.
  • Obliges manufacturer transparency of the amount of unsold products destroyed, specifically, prohibiting the destruction of textiles and electrical and electronic equipment.
  • Introduces a digital passport to make consumers more informed about the product and provides an opportunity to make the supply chain more traceable
  • Proposes to revise the regulation on construction products
  • Proposes to revise the regulation for labeling 

2.  Empowering Consumers Directive COM (2022) 143 final

  • Consumers are empowered about the product they buy through information on warranty, lifespan, repairability.
  • General environmental claims (green, eco-friendly, environmentally positive…) are prohibited when they are not accompanied by data or certified by a third-party verified label.
  • Unfair business practices, which will be placed on a “blacklist” required by the Eco-Design Regulation, are prohibited.

3. Proposal for a Green Claims Directive COM (2023) 166 final

  • Addresses the problem of greenwashing by proposing verifiable and comparable environmental claims, thereby also protecting consumers 
  • Indicates the criteria necessary for the label to be able to certify general environmental claims prohibited by the Empowering Consumers Directive.
  • Proposes PEF (Product Environmental Footprint) type life cycle methodology.


What are the main sectors?

The European strategy for Circular Economy divides its initiatives into different economic sectors, each treated according to a specific approach that takes into account its particular characteristics while allowing for the promotion of more targeted actions. The choice of sectors was based on a comprehensive assessment of what could be the environmental and economic challenges and, at the same time, the potential of the circular model applied to the specific reality. In general, priority was given to those sectors with significant environmental impacts, such as manufacturing, construction, agriculture, waste, and energy.


Some of the proposed directives by sector:



Plastics

Nearly 26 million tons of plastic waste are generated in Europe each year, and about 80% of marine litter is plastic


To address the negative environmental and human health effects of plastics, in January 2018 the European Commission adopted the European Plastics Strategy by promoting the separate collection, recovery and recycling of plastics, in addition, encouraging changes in the design, production and use of plastics in Europe.


1. Single-use plastic directive (Directive (EU) 2019/904).

  • Bans the marketing of certain single-use plastic products that are particularly harmful to the environment (straws, cutlery, plates, plastic balloons, cotton buds, ear sticks…).
  • By 2025, member states must have achieved a collection target of 77% for single-use plastic bottle recycling, and 90% by 2029. In addition, by 2025, bottle production must be at least 25% recycled plastic, and by 2030, 30 percent; furthermore, if the caps are plastic, they can only be placed on the market if they remain attached to the product for the duration of their intended use.
  • Based on the polluter pays principle, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) has been applied, which makes the producer responsible for the costs on waste collection and removal.

2. Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (Directive 94/62/EC and (EU)2018/852).

  • Member states are required to prevent the generation of packaging waste and promote its reuse and recycling. By 2025 at least 65 percent by weight of all packaging waste must be recycled, for plastics 50 percent. In 2030 70% and for plastics 55%.
  • By the end of 2024 EPR schemes for all packaging must be adopted in EU countries.
  • In November 2022, the European Commission proposed revised legislation with the goal of reducing packaging waste by 15 percent by 2040 for each member state on a per capita basis, enabling an overall reduction of +37 percent. In addition, the Commission proposes a 19% increase in packaging waste by 2030, and for plastic waste a 46% increase.


Waste

An average of 5 tons of waste is produced each year in Europe, of which only 38% is recycled, while, in some EU countries, more than 60% of household waste goes to landfill.


The EU’s waste policy, Waste Framework Directive, aims to improve waste management and limit landfilling through innovation in recycling techniques.


Specifically:

  • It introduces a waste hierarchy divided into five steps: first, waste generation must be prevented, preparation for reuse, recycling, other recovery (e.g., energy recovery), and last, and only if necessary, landfilling. 
  • Defines a by-product: a substance or object that results from a production process whose primary purpose was not the production of that substance or object.
  • Introduces recycling targets: at least 55% of municipal waste, by weight, must be recycled by 2025. To 60% by 2030 and 65% by 2035.
  • Regarding recovery, member states will have to establish by January 1, 2025 separate collection of textiles and hazardous waste, produced by households, and by December 31, 2023 organic waste separate collection or recycling at source (e.g., by composting).


Textiles

Every year 5 million tons of clothing are discarded in the EU, this is about 12 kg per person. For every 1,000 tons of textiles collected for reuse, between 20-35 jobs are created. However, only 1% of clothing material is recycled into new garment.


The environmental impact of the textile sector in the EU is not to be underestimated:


it is the fourth largest negative impact on the environment and climate change
it is the third for largest negative impact on water and land consumption
it is the fifth for largest use of primary raw materials and greenhouse gas emissions


Fast Fashion is out of fashion” with this slogan the European Commission introduces in March 2022 the European Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles to change the way textiles are produced, consumed and thrown away and steer the sector towards a sustainable and circular model by 2030.


Specifically:

  • it provides for the improvement of textile product design through the application of ecodesign principles, promoting trade in products made to ensure durability and facilitate repair, reuse and recycling.
  • it encourages consumers to be more aware and responsible by providing them with key information with the digital passport, regarding: warranty, lifespan, possibility of repair.
  • it introduces transparency requirement for large enterprises in reporting the amount of products thrown away and destroyed, also, proposes to ban the destruction of unsold goods.
  • it revises the textile labeling regulation to ensure the correct and reliable dissemination of information from producers to consumers.
  • it emphasizes the need for the EPR regime for textile products through financial responsibility based on circularity criteria and environmental performance (ecomodulations). In 2023 The European Commission also remarked on this proposal within the revision of the Waste Framework Directive.


The Italian picture

At the national level, on the other hand, particular attention to Circular Economy and the Green Transition has been given in the post-pandemic period of general recovery. In particular, the Italian approach to this economic model has always focused on waste management. A tangible example of this focus emerged in 2020, when Italy brought forward the introduction of mandatory separate collection of textile waste to January 1, 2022, a measure mandated by the EU to be implemented by 2025. This was done with the entry into force of Legislative Decree 116/2020. This decree aims to promote textile waste management designed to recycle and reuse this material, while also encouraging the creation of plants and infrastructure to treat this waste and reduce its accumulation in landfills. Pending the ministerial decree for the implementation of extended producer responsibility, the outline of which has been in consultation since 2023, some textile consortia have already begun to implement EPR models. Some examples are Retex.Green, Cobat Textile, and Ecotessili.


In 2021, the National Resilience and Recovery Plan (NRP) was approved in order to enable and increase the country’s green and digital development. The PNRR is part of the broader EU program known as the Next Generation EU, which has allocated a fund of 750 billion euros for European recovery, of which more than 191 billion is allocated to Italy.


Specifically, it is in Mission M2C1 of the NRP, dedicated to the circular economy, that two major reforms were published: the National Strategy for Circular Economy and the National Waste Management Plan. The first reform identifies the actions, objectives and measures to be pursued in the definition of institutional policies to ensure an effective and efficient circular transition; the second provides a guiding tool for Regions and Autonomous Provinces in the planning and management of waste with the aim of orienting and incentivizing policies and initiatives in the direction of circularity.


Finally, to ensure proper implementation of circularity, it needs to be measured. Internationally, there are numerous studies that propose valid methodologies and indicators to do so, and in November 2022, the UNI/TS 11820 technical specification was published in Italy as well. In the specification, consultable and usable methods and indicators have been defined for measuring circular processes in businesses and organizations, with the aim of creating a greater analysis uniformity.


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