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Policies and definitions


Secondary Raw Materials (SRMs) have no clear legal definition on the European Union Community level. Technically, SRMs can be identified as materials that can be recycled and then injected back into the economy as new raw materials (COM(2015) 614). SRMs are typically obtained either from production waste or from End-of-Life (EoL) products, sent to recycling plants at the end of their lifespan. In a Circular Economy (CE) context, SRMs can be traded and shipped just like primary raw materials from traditional extractive resources, increasing the security of supply. A pragmatic definition, however, can be derived from the legislation on the extractive industry (published in the Extractive Waste Directive (2006/21/EC)) and the legal definitions of waste and waste management hierarchy regulated by the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC). In this regard, SRMs are materials and products which can be used as raw materials by simple re-use, or via recycling and recovery.

Even though Europe relies heavily on SRMs, at the time being SRMs still account for a small percentage of the total amount of materials used in the EU (see e.g. RM Scoreboard indicator n.16). Product design and waste management practices have a direct impact on the quantity and quality of the materials and therefore actions to improve these practices are crucial.

Already in its 2008 Communication "The Raw Materials Initiative", the European Commission identified a strategy to ensure sufficient access to raw materials based on three pillars, of which the third one is ‘improving resource efficiency and recycling'. Resource efficiency, recycling, substitution and the increased use of renewable raw materials should be promoted in view of easing the critical dependence of the EU on primary raw materials, reducing import dependency, and with the possibility of improving the environmental balance.

The importance of this strategy was recently re-enforced in the 2015 Communication “Closing the loop - An EU action plan for the Circular Economy”. The actions proposed in the CE Action Plan aim to support the circular economy in each step of the value chain – from production to consumption, repair and remanufacturing, waste management, and SRMs that are fed back into the economy. 

Key factors and Priority areas

One of the barriers faced by operators who want to use SRMs is uncertainty as to their quality. In the absence of EU-wide standards, it can be difficult to ascertain impurity levels or suitability for high-grade recycling. It is also essential to facilitate the cross-border circulation of SRMs to ensure that they can be traded easily across the EU. Another key factor in creating a dynamic market for SRMs is sufficient demand, driven by the use of recycled materials in products and infrastructure.

Plastics, Food waste, Critical Raw Materials, Construction and demolition waste, Biomass and bio-based products are identified as priority areas where actions should be concentrated.

Sustainable Development Goals

The global dimension of the circular economy and supply chains is prominent in an area such as the increasingly globalised market for secondary raw materials. The Commission cooperates closely with international organisations and other interested partners as part of the global efforts to reach the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), namely the global commitments taken by the Union and by EU Member States (the U.N. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the G7 Alliance on Resource Efficiency). The CE Action Plan will be key in reaching the SDGs by 2030, in particular Goal 12 of ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns.