On 2 December 2015, the European Commission launched its circular economy package: ‘Closing the loop – An EU action plan for the Circular Economy.’ Many of the proposals put forward will have an impact, one way or another, on the cement and concrete industry.
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When looking at it from the cement perspective, the package contains several elements which we can support. First of all, the recognition granted to energy recovery as a solution for non-recyclable waste and the material recycling which occurs at the same time as energy recovery. This is particularly important for our sector as, not only do alternative fuels and biomass account for 39% of our fuel mix, the mineral component of the waste is also recycled in our production process as a raw material. Indeed, by taking into consideration material recycling in the cement industry, it is possible to boost the recycling rate of certain municipal waste. In recent years, about 5% of raw materials used in the production of clinker in Europe consisted of recycled alternative raw materials and ashes from fuel.
When it comes to concrete, we fully support the call for sorting systems for construction and demolition waste. Fortunately for concrete, recycling is not technically difficult, but better processes for the demolition, collection and sorting of C&DW will help to provide a consistent supply of good quality material from C&DW. After this waste material is sorted, the concrete waste can be recycled either in road construction or back into new concrete, depending on which is the most sustainable option.
One area which we do believe needs more attention is the landfilling of waste. The cement industry supports a ban on the landfilling of recyclable and recoverable waste. Today, large disparities do exist between Member States with respect to their waste management performance. However, banning landfills would require capacity building to implement waste collection, separation and pre-treatment systems, in order to be able to divert waste from landfill.
Whilst we do recognise that EU funds could contribute to a reduction in landfilling by encouraging other waste treatment options, it is important to ensure that full use is made of existing waste management capacity. This is where co-processing in the cement industry has a clear role to play, as it can provide a solution for a certain amount of the waste currently being landfilled. There are currently around 210 kiln-operated cement plants distributed across the EU, with at least one cement plant in virtually all Member States. Existing cement plants that co-process waste should thus be taken into consideration, as a waste treatment solution for residual waste from landfills, before funding and developing unnecessary, excessive capacity.
Clearly, our sector has much to offer in terms of helping the EU achieve its circular economy goals. We fully support any proposal which aims to make the most of Europe’s resources. At the same time, policymakers must recognise and make the most of what is already taking place in many industries. As such, all forms of recycling should be encouraged, whilst at the same time assessed, in order to ensure that the best environmental, social and economic outcomes are achieved.