The feats of the circular economy ramp the EU plans up

Each of the initiatives focused on the circular economy have their cumulative impact upon the European Union’s legal framework, and that trend seems to be reaching a critical point. Nevertheless, the Commission wants to go further, putting into place an unified law that, mirroring the cycle of these sustainable products, covers the whole value chain. That is the conclusion derived from the report published through the Research Executive Agency, which collects experiences from projects that collaborate with CONSERVAL all across the continent.

The document bases its findings on the March gathering of Water Knowledge Europe 2021, where experts and lawmakers discussed the transition towards an economy capable of recovering both energy and nutrients from waste, which is also the task of CONSERVAL. With that frame in mind, related European law was examined using several practical cases, namely the workshop ‘Water in circular economy policy making’, a common effort from the Water Europe association, the European Innovation Council and SME Executive Agency (EISMEA), and NextGen, an initiative embedded in the Horizon 2020 program. Along with identifying colliding points between innovative projects and community regulation, the Commission urges to depict in each study the legal repercussions of knowledge transfer and implementation of an effective circular economy.

If everything goings accordingly, the recommendations issued by projects with European funding will enhance the new Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), shall it relieve and integrate legislation over three decades old, such as the Urban Waste Water Directive or the Sewage Sludge Directive? Among the cases referenced in the report, there are noteworthy examples: from HYDROUSA and the aforementioned NextGen, participants in the workshop ‘The Value of Water’, hosted by CONSERVAL, to Water2Return, which employs a similar biorefinery technology, or ULTIMATE, a wastewater recovery research for both urban and industrial processes. These practical experiences helped picture the Action Plan, expected to contribute to the recovery of resources across all sectors, including industrial processes, with special attention to that of the food industry, with its own Integral Nutrient Management Action Plan.

Plain and simple, the goal is to go beyond traditional thinking and to tackle both legal vacuums and contradictions within the law framework, which too often means a halt in the viability and value creation of these sustainable product chains. It is the first step towards a real, bottom-top circular economy. Furthermore, it is the wish of the Commission to create official guidelines with specifics for small producers and consumers; quality, origin, and property certificates, along international standards to make these technologies accessible and align them with the carbon-neutral objectives; policies to award waste recovery, instead of punishing pollution; digital tools for high-scale solutions; and local, de-centralized initiatives that may be socially acceptable. This huge enterprise must come from European research projects like CONSERVAL itself, which may not only develop feasible technologies, but also scalable management processes able to reach the consumers.

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