Circular Economy in Europe

How does the EU deal with circular economy and what approaches exist in European countries? We need an European action plan to enforce the recyclability of building materials and the use of renewable and resource efficient materials.

On Monday, 13 July 2020, the fourth part of the natureplus web seminar series "reduce, reuse, recycle - future building materials" was held in English. Examples of Circular Economy from various European countries have been discussed with experts and natureplus country representatives from the Netherlands and Great Britain. The initial lecture "Resource Policy Innovations in the EU Member States - Current Developments" came from Dr. Klaus Jacob from the Free University of Berlin, Environmental Policy Research Centre (FFU). 

Germany and Europe in comparison

In his presentation, Dr. Klaus Jakob noted that Germany is taking far fewer measures towards a circular economy than other European states, although the resource situation is critical: Even as the efficiency of resource use has increased, the absolute amount of resource consumption has not decreased and the level of imported resources remains problematic. German policy relies mainly on voluntary measures as promoting innovation (mostly supply side innovation policies), information or persuasion of companies and consumers and market based instruments for waste management. Other EU Member States use more than 160 policy instruments, most of them are financial duties:

  • Voluntary agreements (2%)
  • Provision of information (8%)
  • Subsidies (12%)
  • Regulatory instruments (8%)
  • Financial duties (taxes, deposits) (70%)

Government regulations are also a frequently used instrument (in BE, BG, CZ, FR, GR, IE, LT, MT, NL, PL),  good practise examples are:
Belgium (Flanders): Take back obligations for Paper, automobiles, tyres, ICT (combined with voluntary agreements)

  • France: Take back obligations for furniture, clothing, office equipments
  • Bulgaria: regulation on use of construction waste and use of recycled construction materials
  • France: law against planned obsolence

Financial duties exist in all Member States. There are taxes on primary construction material in ca. half of the Member States, with a varying level of ecological ambition. Good practice examples come from Denmark, Sweden and UK: DK: 0,67 € / m3; SWE: 1,73 €/ t; UK: 2,30 € / t. The evaluation of aggregate levies / taxes shows the success of the measures. As a result, the recovery rate in SWE, DK, UK and GER is much higher than EU average (46 %), the landfilling in the respective countries is lower (GER 5 %, UK: 2 %), the use of construction material as (downcicled) filling materialis lower (GER 85 %, UK: 75 %) and the share of construction material from recycling is significantly higher (GER 12 %, UK: 21 %).


The conclusions of Dr. Jakob were not so positive for the German government: Germany was pioneer in establishing a resource policy, but does not utilize the full spectrum of policy instruments. Relevant barriers to resource efficiency are not addressed, and relevant potentials for efficiency are not tapped. Governance of resource policies in Germany is consensus oriented, because the use of regulatory and market based instruments would imply conflict.

Circular Economy Action Plan

In March 2020 the European Commission has adopted a new Circular Economy Action Plan. It is one of the main blocks of the European Green Deal, Europe's new agenda for sustainable growth. The new Action Plan announces initiatives along the entire life cycle of products, targeting for example their design, promoting circular economy processes, fostering sustainable consumption, and aiming to ensure that the resources used are kept in the EU economy for as long as possible. It introduces legislative and non-legislative measures targeting areas where action at the EU level brings real added value.

Need for action

Dr. Rolf Buschmann once again addressed the situation in Germany. The President of the natureplus Association is a full-time waste management expert for the largest German environmental organisation, BUND. He referred to the important legal regulations "waste framework law (Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz)", the "Resource Efficiency Program (ProgRess III)" and the (discussed for years and still outstanding) "Regulation on Alternative Construction Materials". These examples showed the importance attached to Circular Economy (CE) also at the political level. Even if there are high recycling rates on paper, they are mostly of low quality. Now there is an urgent need for action - nationally and at European level: CE should be an elementary component of building design, we should look for CE opportuities in any case before deconstruction. natureplus is willing to contribute to an European framework to enforce recyclability of building materials and the use of renewable, resource and climate friendly raw materials.

European perspectives

Afterwards Sissy Verspeek from natureplus-Partner Stichting Agrodome in the Netherlands refers on the CBCI interreg project on Circular and Bio based construction. Katherine Adams from UK natureplus partner organisation ASBP (Alliance for Sustainable Building Products) refers on circular economy policy in the UK. She still stated - despite all the progress achieved, for example in the taxation of landfill - that most of the examples presented were "for the catwalk and not for the main road". In the following discussion, numerous participants referred to best practice projects in diverse European countries and provided links to the corresponding project reports, which were subsequently made available to the web seminar participants.

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