The European Steel Association (EUROFER) has greeted the release of the European Commission's Circular Economy Action plan, hailing it as an important step in developing a truly circular economy in Europe, but arguing that it misses incentives to keep valuable steel scrap within the EU, undermining circularity and the EU climate objectives.

“As producers of an essential, 100% recyclable and permanent material, steelmakers are eager to see circularity put at the heart of the EU’s policy focus”, said Axel Eggert, director-general of EUROFER. “However, beyond the first principles of the circular economy there are more in-depth considerations that must be addressed – which this Commission Communication, in part, does”.

According to EUROFER, aspects of the new Circular Economy Action plan are of noted importance for the steel sector. These include products policy, ‘process-related residues’ and the secondary raw materials market.

Eggert claims that having a sustainable products policy initiative in which the Eco-Design Directive is extended in scope to help circularity and the assessment of product sustainability is a good thing. “It is also important to have robust tools for substantiating environmental claims on products – supporting consumers and buyers in making truly sustainable choices," he said.

“EUROFER also fully supports the development of an EU market for secondary raw materials. We need EU-wide criteria for the granting of ‘by-product’ or ‘end-of-waste’ status to certain industrial streams generated during the production processes. More widely, when a secondary raw material – generated either as waste or as a by-product – is fit for certain applications and can be safely used, its access to the market should be improved, regardless of its legal status," Eggert explained.

The Action Plan addresses the problem of leakage of waste to export markets. The carbon embedded in scrap means that using it as a raw material can help reduce emissions from steel production, EUROFER claims, adding that it fully supports EU action to addrerss waste exports from the EU. “This could widen recycling in the EU via measures on products design and on the quality of the secondary raw materials,” Eggert said.

While EUROFER welcomes the Action Plan, it urges caution on some elements as not all materials are the same and a one-size-fits-all policy will not suit all.

"The path towards greater circularity must be built upon scientific, evidence-based principles. Otherwise, the intentions of the Communication may not improve circularity," EUROFER claims.

Eggert believes that care must be taken when dealing with chemicals in a circular economy context. "The risks of exposure to hazardous substances must be minimised. However, simply banning certain substances would hamper circularity, not reinforce it”, Eggert stressed.

“Over 90% of steel scrap in the EU is collected and we recycle all of the scrap returned to our facilities. While recycling is a very effective means for keeping materials in the loop, circularity must strike a balance between ‘recycled content’ and design for ‘end-of-life recyclability’”, concluded Mr Eggert. “Both parts need to be assessed per sector, otherwise true circularity will never be achieved. The EU exports millions of tons of steel scrap every year, so incentives should be developed to keep circular materials within the EU so as to meet our circular economy and climate objectives.”