Circular Economy

Europe’s ecological footprint is already double its land area and the EU is heavily reliant on imported resources. 

In the context of escalating global environmental pressures, it has become increasingly clear that Europe’s prevailing model of economic development — based on steadily growing resource use and pollutant emissions — cannot be sustained in the long term. In 2011, the EU imported almost 60% of its fossil fuel and metal resources (see The EEA’s Environmental indicator report 2012 — Ecosystem resilience and resource efficiency in a green economy in Europe).

Resource inefficiency, unsustainable production and consumption patterns are generating large amounts of waste. Depending on its management, waste may impact both human health and the environment through emissions to air, soil, surface water and groundwater. But it also represents a significant loss of material resources as metals and other recyclables are needlessly disposed of.

The transition to a circular economy, where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained for as long as possible and the amount of waste generated is minimised, is essential in ensuring the EU’s efforts to develop a sustainable, low carbon, resource efficient and competitive economy. Such transition represents the perfect opportunity to transform our economy and generate new and sustainable competitive advantages for Europe.

The European Commission’s Circular Economy Package lacked specific elements that would address the production process stage in terms of both resource use and industrial waste management – a fact the Commissions itself has recognised. From 2016 guidance on best waste management and resource efficiency practices would be included in BREFs.

Industrial activities regulated by the IED / BREFs

Waste is generated at all stages of the materials life cycle:

  • Extraction (mining waste);
  • Production and distribution (industrial/commercial, hazardous and packaging waste);
  • Consumption of products and services (municipal and similar commercial waste);
  • Treatment (e.g. residues from sorting and recycling facilities, or incinerator slag).

The industrial sector in very broad terms (i.e. non-household sources) is responsible for about 90% of the 2.5 billion tonnes of waste generated (including mineral waste) every year in the EU. The most important sectors in terms of generation of industrial waste are: construction (34%), mining and quarrying (27%) and manufacturing (11%). Eurostat waste statistics provide an oversight of the current situation in the EU. 

2014 European Commission report on the potential of the circular economy identifies the following priorities where accelerating the circular economy would be beneficial, and where EU policy has a particular role to play. Priority materials identified include agricultural products and waste, wood and paper, plastics, metals and phosphorus. Packaging and food are described as priority sectors and are covered by the scope of the IED.

Key IED provisions concerning resource efficiency

In principle, the IED provisions aim to tackle both issues of unsustainable resource consumption and waste generation by industrial installations. The requirements linked to improved resource use are not as adequately and clearly referred to in the elements to be included in the installation permit as those linked to waste management.

Under the IED framework, EU member states shall take the necessary measures to provide that the Waste Hierarchy is implemented:

(a) the generation of waste is prevented in accordance with Directive 2008/98/EC;
(b) where waste is generated, it is, in order of priority and in accordance with Directive 2008/98/EC, prepared for re-use, recycled, recovered or, where that is technically and economically impossible, it is disposed of while avoiding or reducing any impact on the environment.For this purpose, the permit should (among other elements) include appropriate requirements concerning the monitoring and management of waste generated by the installation – including a description of measures for waste prevention, preparation for re-use, recycling and/or recovery. In terms of resource use, the operator is expected to include in the permit application a description of the raw (and auxiliary) materials, other substances and energy used by the installation, having however the obligation to merely ensure the efficient use of energy.

Further the need to ensure prudent management of natural resources (recital 2 of the IED) as well the “furthering of recovery and recycling of substances generated and used in the process and of waste” are clearly part of the BAT criteria (Annex II, point 3 of the IED).

What are the BREFs supposed to tackle? 

It is clear from the BREF review rules and Annex II point 3 of the IED, that the information exchange and the BAT conclusions shall address resource use and waste generation. The environmental performance and operational data sought during the elaboration/review of a BREF include:

raw and auxiliary materials/feedstock use:

  • quantity (inc. secondary/recycled material) and composition;
  • indication of the techniques used to maximise the efficient use of resources

-water use:

  • information about the origin of the water used and about the receiving water;
  • whether treatment of supply waters is carried out on site and an indication of the type of treatment performed (e.g. desalination, filtration);
  • indication of the techniques used to reduce the consumption of water;
  • indication whether water is reused and if so how much

energy use:

  • type and quantity of fuel/energy used (e.g. fuel oil, liquefied petroleum gas, natural gas, steam, electricity, waste, biogas, biofuel or biomass used as fuel);
  • fuel/energy consumption (per type)


  • type(s) and quantities of residues/waste generated;
  • characteristics of the residues/waste generated (e.g. metals content, average dry solid content);
  • the specific weight of organic and inorganic residues/waste disposed of and the specific weight which is recycled/ reused internally or externally;
  • oindication of the techniques used to prevent the generation of residues/waste or, when this is not practicable, to reduce the generation of residues/waste.

Furthermore, it is clearly noted in the BREF review rules that the BAT used to enhance resource efficiency and to prevent/minimise the generation of waste may be accompanied by environmental performance levels (so called ‘BAT-AEPLs’) leading to clear and concrete BAT conclusions.

The rules state that: “BAT-associated consumption levels should preferably be expressed in consumption (e.g. of raw material, energy, water) per mass or other unit of product manufactured (e.g. in kg/t, MJ/t); BAT-AEPLs for energy and water consumption may also be expressed in consumption per mass of raw material (e.g. MJ/t, m3/t). With regard to waste generation, BAT-AEPLs should preferably be expressed in mass (or other unit) of waste generated per mass (or other unit) of product manufactured (e.g. in kg/t of product). They may also be expressed in other ways such as in mass of waste generated per mass of raw material (e.g. in kg/t).”

However, experience has shown that these issues have not been properly addressed in recent BAT reviews where the focus has been on emissions abatement. In most cases only on air or water emissions, as the Commission regularly falls back to the industry and industry-friendly Member States claiming that water/soil pollution abatement requirements should be dealt with at local level. Entry points where resource efficiency and sound waste management shall be addressed would concern in particular the following BREFs:

  • Waste Treatment BREF (WT BREF) (review on-going)
  • Food Drink and Milk industries BREF (FDM BREF) (review on-going)

In the current Waste Treatment BREF there are dedicated BAT conclusions on utilities and raw material management covering energy consumption reporting, setting up energy efficiency plans with performance indicators, internal benchmarking on raw materials consumption and exploring options for the use of waste as raw material for the treatment of other wastes. These BAT conclusions mainly focus on outlining ‘good management practices’ without including concrete elements and targets that the operator shall aim to achieve and the competent authority to verify. Even in the case of the more complete BAT conclusions addressing water consumption/reuse where specific techniques are detailed, the absence of qualitative and quantitative targets remains – it is highly questionable what a permit writer could get out of this and how these requirements can be enforced.

The same applies for BAT conclusions linked to residues management: BAT include the implementation of a management plan, internal benchmarking and a monitoring inventory, as well as re-using of the residues. However these requirements are drafted in a very generic manner. Specific conclusions, such as reusing the vacuum distillation residues from the re-refining of waste oils as asphalt products (BAT 102), are rare. Moreover, no concrete requirements on the destruction/removal efficiency of hazardous substances have been set.

Provisions that would enable the waste industry (even at the end of the chain) to fulfil its role in the transition to the circular economy are required. For example, BAT conclusions addressing the outputs quality (without necessarily prescribing specific criteria/end-of-waste criteria for all potential end uses, if addressed by legislation or standards) and industrial symbiosis applications. The only BAT addressing this in the WT BREF is linked to the production of waste fuels and the requirement to have a quality assurance system in place to guarantee the desired fuel characteristics (BAT 118).

The Commission’s first draft of the revised WT BREF contains no significant improvement on the shortcomings outlined above. Furthermore, BAT conclusions supposed to improve waste treatment efficiency, such as techniques improving the knowledge on waste in (pre-acceptance and monitoring procedures), on waste out and on having traceability systems in place, have regrettable been weakened. The EIPPB is proposing a significant weakening of current provisions, the BAT conclusion on developing an approach for specifically improving waste treatment efficiency using reporting indicators and a monitoring system has been fully deleted.

Your contribution… 

Considering recent experience in BREF reviews we would seek to get the following information:

  • Best practices for efficient resource use / waste management, in terms of both strategic plans (e.g. dedicated waste prevention plans, preferably including concrete elements such as performance indicators) and specific applications;
  • Industrial symbiosis applications;
  • Best practices in terms of assessing / improving the waste treatment efficiency and establishing a relation between the input and output flow as well as characterisation of material flow in qualitative and quantitative terms.

Please provide information to or submit information anonymously via the contact page.

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