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POSITION | European Commission's Roadmap for a New Circular Economy Action plan: Aqua Publica Europea's comments

Last December, as part of the EU Green Deal, the European Commission published its Roadmap for a New Circular Economy Action Plan. Aqua Publica Europea welcomes the Roadmap and the objectives for circular economy and emphasises several key points to be taken into account: preventing waste and promoting sustainable alternatives; preventing pollution at source and addressing the question of bioresources; and taking into account the entire picture for a true circular economy.

Aqua Publica Europea welcomes the European Commission’s New Circular Economy Action Plan objectives which tackle growing challenges affecting resources and waste. Considering that water is limited yet essential, it is paramount to protect and preserve our natural heritage.

Aqua Publica Europea represents public water operators providing water and sanitation services to over 70 million people in Europe, driven by the overarching mission to provide high quality services. Based on their expertise and on-the-ground understanding of the pressures on water, we would like to highlight a set of suggestions that should strengthen ambitions for more circularity.

Preventing waste and promoting sustainable alternatives: recycling needs to be a final resort and waste reduction the first objective with uptake of sustainable, zero-waste solutions as the main priority. In practice, high volumes of plastic pollution can be prevented by adopting and fostering more environmentally-friendly habits, such as opting for tap water. APE members are already doing their part by, on the one hand, supplying high quality water and, in addition, committing to the promotion of tap water as drinking water.

Preventing pollution at source through both control and greener design is key to reduce pressure on the environment and support the reuse of biological materials. Bioresources have great potential in a circular economy, including for energy and nutrient recovery from sludge resulting from waste water treatment. In practice, however, safety concerns about the reuse of sludge, unstable outlet markets for recovered resources, contribute to a linear situation where disposal consists growingly of incineration and landfill. As we will continue to produce such material, it is paramount to address the issue: setting adequate EU-wide quality standards and regulation whilst also controlling what enters into the water system in the first place, also by taking into consideration trade and imports, would support trust in resources and help overcome difficulties.

A true circular economy needs to look at the entire picture to efficiently bridge gaps. Promoting a cross-sectoral approach, which carefully considers each sector’s economic conditions and needs, can facilitate the management of trade-offs whilst it is also essential to give responsibility to all actors throughout product life-cycles. In this context, political ambition, citizen participation and empowerment and adequate financing mechanisms are indispensable elements to a system that benefits from an enabling environment for circularity.