As part as Belgium’s Presidency of the council of the European Union, Flemish Environment Minister Joke Schauvliege became President of the EU’s Environment Council on the first of July this year. She placed sustainable materials management on top of her mandate’s focal points, thus giving closed-loop and life-cycle approaches a new visibility and political backup.
Just two weeks after taking office, Mrs Schauvliege hosted a Council on Sustainable Materials Management in Ghent, formulating her objectives:
Mrs Joke Schauvliege, Flemish minister for Environment, Nature and Culture and President of the EU’s Environment Council.
“We must start to think cyclically: using waste as a raw material for new products. At the informal Council meeting on Sustainable Materials Management, we also want to convince Europe about this cradle-to-cradle approach to materials.”
“With sustainable materials management, we are placing a new theme on the agenda. We must deal with our materials, and with our energy, more efficiently. At the end of their life we must be able to reuse materials as new raw materials. This is called completing the cycle.”
The idea, already taken onboard by the Dutch government and the authorities of certain Chinese provinces, is gaining many converts and thanks to Joke Schauvliege’s initiative, it is now finding a new platform. Taking advantage of the European Union Council’s rotating presidency, the Flemish minister for Environment, Nature and Culture aims to make the issue a political one, presenting the closed-loop vision to all 27 EU member states.
The paradigm shift necessary to make the transition towards a sustainable economy involves profound changes, which can only be made in a reasonable timeframe if a strong political will is at work. Looking at specific targets, the Belgian Presidency has identified four major phases that will need a combined set of policies: extraction, production, consumption and waste. These areas need a re-think to break away from the linear “take – make – dispose” model our current economy still relies upon.
This will require not just efficiency gains understood as using fewer resources to produce one unit of economic value, but changes in governance and in lifestyles and behaviour.
John Hontelez, Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau.
In its Operational Program, the Belgian Presidency also stresses the need to focus efforts on a sustainable transport network for Europe, putting the emphasis on interconnections between several modes of transport. Energy policy is another key point of the Program, and as the official document underlines: “The Belgian Presidency will endeavour, through work on the North Seas Countries’ Offshore Grid Initiative to lend substance to the development of offshore wind farms in Europe” –read our related article