On 4 July 2018, four EU directives included in the “Circular economy package” have entered into force. These directives, by modifying the six previous directives on waste, packaging and packaging waste, the landfill of waste, end-of life vehicles, batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators, and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), aim to incentivize a sharper transition to a sustainable economy with less production of waste.

According to an analysis carried out by the World Bank, 1.3 billion tonnes of waste are produced every year on a global scale, while estimations point out that this number may reach 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025[1]. The ever-increase of the world population will lead to a more intense exploitation of already scarce natural resources, while producing more and more waste with disastrous consequences for human health and the environment.

The traditional economic model follows, indeed, a linear productive process, which can be described with the formula “take-make-dispose”: raw materials are transformed into products that, once they have fulfilled their purpose, become waste.

We must search for and promote alternative and sustainable economic models, the first one being that of circular economy. In a circular economy, the key words are recycling and reuse, so that the activity of production is conceived as a self-regenerating process, alimented by renewable sources. This system does not produce waste, since its products can either be reintegrated in the biosphere or acquire new value without reinterring into the biosphere.

Analysing the regulations on the matter, we must notice that environmental issues have always been a major concern of the legislator, especially on an EU level. A commitment to sustainable development in Europe, “based on balanced economic growth” and “aiming at […] a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment”, arises from article 3 of the TEU (Treaty on European Union), when dealing with the instauration of the EU internal market.

Articles 191 and 194 of the TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) expand on this principle, the first dealing with matters of environment policy while the second being about energy policy. In detail, article 191 sets out the guidelines followed by the EU on environmental matters and emphasizes on the “prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources”, while article 194 promotes “energy efficiency”, “energy saving” and “the development of new and renewable forms of energy”, all of which are aspects of a circular economy[2].

Even the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union (also called the Nice Charter) contributes to the legislation by elevating environment protection to the status of fundamental right. It establishes, in article 37, that “[a] high level of environmental protection and the improvement of the quality of the environment must be integrated into the policies of the Union and ensured in accordance with the principle of sustainable development”.

Looking at State regulations, they tend to grant a less intense level of environment protection, though we can still find constitutional provisions concerning environmental matters. Article 32 of the Italian Constitution recognizes health both as “a fundamental right of the individual” and as “a collective interest”, which can be interpreted as affirming the right of the citizen to live in a healthy environment. In this sense, environment protection becomes an instrumental right to the safeguard of human health. Furthermore, article 117 mentions environment protection, alongside cultural goods protection, as one of the matters to be regulated only by the State. This provision explicitly refers to environmental matters, even if only in relation to the allocation of legislative power between the State and the Regions.

On an international level, the United Nations also promotes circular economy. Guaranteeing sustainable models of production and consumption is the 12th of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) adopted as part of the 2030 Agenda, which sets aims UN Member States must reach by that date.



[1] https://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTURBANDEVELOPMENT/Resources/336387-1334852610766/Chap3.pdf

[2] ELLEN MACARTHUR FOUNDATION, 2015. Towards a circular economy: business rationale for an accelerated transition. Found in https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/TCE_Ellen-MacArthur-Foundation_26-Nov-2015.pdf


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