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Circular economy

Why should countries and regions look to a circular approach to rebuild and transform their economies?

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By 2050, the world will consume resources equivalent to three planet Earths. With an ever-increasing unsustainable consumption of finite resources, rapid and deliberate action is critically needed to respond to this challenge. And yet in 2019, we sent less than a tenth (a mere 8.6%) of all material produced back into the cycle, to be reused and recycled. That is down 1% from 9.1% in 2018, demonstrating progress is not exponential, write Cliona Howie and Laura Nolan.

A circular economy development path in Europe could result in a 32% reduction of primary material consumption by 2030, and 53% by 2050. So what is hindering bold action to achieve these targets?

In March 2020 the EU launched a new Circular Economy Action Plan in response to making Europe “cleaner and more competitive”, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stating that a “circular economy will make us less dependent and boost our resilience. This is not only good for our environment, but it reduces dependency by shortening and diversifying supply chains.” In September, von der Leyen proposed to increase the targets for emission reduction by more than a third on the road to the EU becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Simultaneously, regional and national governments are fighting the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic to help rebuild their economies, create and save jobs. A circular economy transition is key to that rebuild, all the while reaching net-zero emissions targets set by the Paris Agreement and recent EU Green Deal to ensure our economy sets a sustainable path for our future.

Commit to a circular economy to secure jobs and financing

A circular economy can create new economic opportunities, ensure that industries save materials, and generate extra value from products and services. From 2012 to 2018 the number of jobs linked to the circular economy in the EU grew by 5%. A circular transition at European scale could create 700,000 new jobs by 2030 and increase the EU’s GDP by additional 0.5%.

A circular economy can boost investments, secure new funding and speed up recovery plans following the pandemic. Regions that embrace the circular economy will be able to harvest funding from the European Union’s 'Next Generation EU' recovery and resilience financing instruments, including the European Green Deal Investment Plan, InvestEU and funds supporting the Circular Economy Action Plan. The European Regional Development Fund will complement private innovation funding to bring new solutions to the market. Political and economic support from the European Union and its Member States to develop local policies in favour of a circular economy is fostering the development of national and regional strategies and tools for cooperation, such as in Slovenia and the Western Balkan countries.

Moving towards systems innovation to accelerate the transition

Today we can see many great single initiatives in cities and regions across Europe. But “conventional approaches will not be sufficient,” the Commission pointed out last December when it published the European Green Deal proposals. Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said “a more systemic change will be necessary to move beyond just waste management and achieve a true transition to a circular economy.”

While existing innovation projects add value to the transition to a circular economy, the challenge we still face is the need to work across many disciplines and value chains simultaneously. This cross-cutting approach requires sophisticated and formal coordination. The transition to a circular economy must be systemic and embedded in all parts of society to be truly transformative.

There is no template, but there is a methodology

People are quick to look at a problem and find an immediate solution. Solutions to single challenges will incrementally improve the current status, but will not help us reach our ambitious goals with the big picture in mind. Furthermore, what may work in one city or region, might not work in another market. “Templates and plans on how to change cities to become circular are a linear way of thinking,” explained Ladeja Godina Košir, Director Circular Change, Chair European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform. “We have to learn from each other and understand what has worked. We also have to dare to see how each city is unique to develop circular economy models for each city.”

We need mechanisms that can help us learn from others but also cater to unique environments and continually evolving needs. At EIT Climate-KIC, the process we use to do this is called Deep Demonstration. It is a systems designs tool that converts territories and value chains into living laboratories for circular economy and innovation ready for large scale, action-based implementation.

Deep Demonstrations: a transferable methodology

Slovenia is one example among many countries committed to large-scale circular transition, working with EIT Climate-KIC to develop and deliver a demonstration pilot that will tackle entire value chain transformation by leveraging policy, education, finance, entrepreneurship and community engagement. Elements of these experiences are replicable across other European test sites: currently we are working to develop a circular economy transition approach with countries like Italy, Bulgaria and Ireland, regions like Cantabria in Spain and cities like Milan and Leuven, proving that a diverse range of economies can engage and enact transition at scale.

Putting systemic circular solutions in place requires stakeholders to work together across the EU, state, regional and local levels. EIT Climate-KIC is harnessing collective learning across complex issues and challenges, including hosting multiple workshops with actors from industry, administration, NGOs, the public and private sectors, and research and academia.

Leaving no one behind

The main beneficiaries of a sustainable, low carbon transition are the local communities, industry and businesses as well as other stakeholders from different sectors and value chains. It is critical to grant ownership of this transformation and its action plans to all citizens, without which effective transition will not occur. This includes community members, public servants, academics, entrepreneurs, students and policymakers.

This integration of all actors across so many sections of our society ensures that receptive and fluid interface frameworks are built into the portfolio approach. Yet, today policy and fiscal frameworks are designed for a linear economy. By working with public administration and the European Commission to promote multi-stakeholder dialogue, EIT Climate-KIC leverages action across various levels of governance and sectors: if we need to change the entire system, working with one Ministry alone will not cut it. In our ongoing work, we have seen many departments within regions earnest and determined to work together. But when decision makers gather around the table to unpack a complex problem like a circular economy, it is not uncommon to realise there has not been enough time to have the right conversations to coordinate programmes than span several inter-departmental or ministry budget lines. Within our Circular Economy Transition Deep Demonstrations, the Transition Policy Lab works across multiple government bodies to reshape and reformulate new policies that integrate circularity into a new regulatory framework.

A circular economy can lead to sustainable and inclusive societies

Engaging all different communities and stakeholders, as well as providing spaces where anyone can learn, develop and maintain relevant skills, enables citizens to take part and engage in the transitions - ensuring the diverse reality of a region’s population remains in focus.

If at this time of unprecedented societal disruption, Europe’s regions take this opportunity to build more inclusive and competitive circular economy programmes, the compounding benefits will speak for themselves. It means moving from individual technological solutions to a wider portfolio of activity that will stimulate new skills and create jobs, reach zero-emissions and improve access to an improved quality of life. It means working together, in a fair and transparent way. It means identifying and then changing the policies that are stopping systemic innovation from taking place. Through the support of Deep Demonstrations, EIT Climate-KIC is integrating learnings, helping share these learnings and building on best practice and local adaptation to create sustainable and inclusive societies in other markets, regions and cities.

The reward would amplify everything a region has set out to achieve: reach net-zero carbon emissions, enable regions to remain competitive and leave nobody behind.

Cliona Howie has been working as an environmental consultant for over 20 years, supporting both public and private sectors in areas such as conservation, resource efficiency, industrial ecology and symbiosis. At EIT Climate-KIC she is the lead on circular economy development and transition.

Laura Nolan is a stakeholder engagement expert with experience delivering programmes in the fields of climate change, renewable energy and sustainable development. At EIT Climate-KIC she leads on circular economy programme development and manages European projects such as H2020 CICERONE.

For more information contact [email protected]

Circular economy

How the EU wants to achieve a circular economy by 2050

EU Reporter Correspondent

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on

Find out about the EU’s circular economy action plan and what additional measures MEPs want to reduce waste and make products more sustainable. If we keep on exploiting resources as we do now, by 2050 we would need the resources of three Earths. Finite resources and climate issues require moving from a ‘take-make-dispose’ society to a carbon-neutral, environmentally sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy by 2050, Society.

The current crisis highlighted weaknesses in resource and value chains, hitting SMEs and industry. A circular economy will cut CO2-emissions, whilst stimulating economic growth and creating job opportunities.

Read more about the definition and benefits of the circular economy.

The EU circular economy action plan

In line with EU’s 2050 climate neutrality goal under the Green Deal, the European Commission proposed a new Circular Economy Action Plan in March 2020, focusing on waste prevention and management and aimed at boosting growth, competitiveness and EU global leadership in the field.

The Parliament called for tighter recycling rules and binding 2030 targets for materials use and consumption in a resolution adopted on 9 February 2021.

Moving to sustainable products

To achieve an EU market of sustainable, climate-neutral and resource-efficient products, the Commission proposes extending the Ecodesign Directive to non-energy-related products. MEPs want the new rules to be in place in 2021.

MEPs also back initiatives to fight planned obsolescence, improve the durability and reparability of products and to strengthen consumer rights with the right to repair. They insist consumers have the right to be properly informed about the environmental impact of the products and services they buy and asked the Commission to make proposals to fight so-called greenwashing, when companies present themselves as being more environmentally-friendly than they really are.

Making crucial sectors circular

Circularity and sustainability must be incorporated in all stages of a value chain to achieve a fully circular economy: from design to production and all the way to the consumer. The Commission action plan sets down seven key areas essential to achieving a circular economy: plastics; textiles; e-waste; food, water and nutrients; packaging; batteries and vehicles; buildings and construction.

Plastics

MEPs back the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, which would phase out the use of microplastics.

Read more about the EU strategy to reduce plastic waste.

Textiles

Textiles use a lot of raw materials and water, with less than 1% recycled. MEPs want new measures against microfiber loss and stricter standards on water use.

Discover how the textile production and waste affects the environment.

Electronics and ICT

Electronic and electrical waste, or e-waste, is the fastest growing waste stream in the EU and less than 40% is recycled. MEPs want the EU to promote longer product life through reusability and reparability.

Learn some E-waste facts and figures.

Food, water and nutrients

An estimated 20% of food is lost or wasted in the EU. MEPs urge the halving of food waste by 2030 under the Farm to Fork Strategy.

Packaging

Packaging waste in Europe reached a record high in 2017. New rules aim to ensure that all packaging on the EU market is economically reusable or recyclable by 2030.

Batteries and vehicles

MEPs are looking at proposals requiring the production and materials of all batteries on the EU market to have a low carbon footprint and respect human rights, social and ecological standards.

Construction and buildings

Construction accounts for more than 35% of total EU waste. MEPs want to increase the lifespan of buildings, set reduction targets for the carbon footprint of materials and establish minimum requirements on resource and energy efficiency.

Waste management and shipment

The EU generates more than 2.5 billion tonnes of waste a year, mainly from households. MEPs urge EU countries to increase high-quality recycling, move away from landfilling and minimise incineration.

Find out about landfilling and recycling statistics in the EU.

Find out more 

Continue Reading

Circular economy

Parliament aims for carbon-neutral, sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy

EU Reporter Correspondent

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on

MEPs call for binding 2030 targets for materials use and consumption footprint ©AdobeStock_Fotoschlick  

Parliament adopted comprehensive policy recommendations to achieve a carbon-neutral, sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy by 2050 at the latest. The report, adopted today (10 February) with 574 votes in favour, 22 against and 95 abstentions, is a response to the Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan. Binding 2030 targets are needed for materials use and our consumption footprint, covering the whole lifecycle of each product category placed on the EU market, MEPs stress. They also call on the Commission to propose product-specific and/or sector-specific binding targets for recycled content.

Parliament urges the Commission to put forward new legislation in 2021, broadening the scope of the Ecodesign Directive to include non-energy-related products. This should set product-specific standards, so that products placed on the EU market perform well, are durable, reusable, can be easily repaired, are not toxic, can be upgraded and recycled, contain recycled content, and are resource- and energy-efficient. Other key recommendations are detailed here.

Rapporteur Jan Huitema (Renew Europe, NL) said: “The transition to a circular economy is an economic opportunity for Europe that we should embrace. Europe is not a resource-rich continent, but we have the skills, the expertise and the ability to innovate and develop the technologies needed to close loops and build a waste-free society. This will create jobs and economic growth and bring us closer to reaching our climate goals: It’s a win-win.” Watch video statement.

In the plenary debate, MEPs also emphasised that achieving the Green Deal objectives will only be possible if the EU switches to a circular economy model, and that this change will create new jobs and business opportunities. Existing legislation on waste must be implemented more thoroughly, and further measures are needed for key sectors and products, such as textiles, plastics, packaging and electronics, MEPs added. Watch the full recording of the debate here.

Context

In March 2020, the Commission adopted a new “Circular Economy Action Plan for a Cleaner and More Competitive Europe”. A debate in the Environment Committee took place in October 2020, and the report was adopted on 27 January 2021.

Up to 80% of the environmental impact of products is determined at the design phase. The global consumption of materials is expected to double in the next forty years, while the amount of waste generated every year is projected to increase by 70% by 2050. Half of total greenhouse gas emissions, and more than 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress, come from extracting and processing resources.

Continue Reading

Circular economy

How the EU wants to achieve a circular economy by 2050  

EU Reporter Correspondent

Published

on

Find out about the EU’s circular economy action plan and what additional measures MEPs want to reduce waste and make products more sustainable. If we keep on exploiting resources as we do now, by 2050 we would need the resources of three Earths. Finite resources and climate issues require moving from a ‘take-make-dispose’ society to a carbon-neutral, environmentally sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy by 2050.

The current crisis highlighted weaknesses in resource and value chains, hitting SMEsandindustry. A circular economy will cut CO2-emissions, whilst stimulating economic growth and creating job opportunities.

Read more about the definition and benefits of the circular economy.

The EU circular economy action plan

In line with EU’s 2050 climate neutrality goal under the Green Deal, the European Commission proposed a new Circular Economy Action Plan in March 2020, focusing on waste prevention and management and aimed at boosting growth, competitiveness and EU global leadership in the field.

On 27 January, Parliament's environment committee backed the plan and called for binding 2030 targets for materials use and consumption. MEPs will vote on the report during the February plenary session.

Moving to sustainable products

To achieve an EU market of sustainable, climate-neutral and resource-efficient products, the Commission proposes extending the Ecodesign Directive to non-energy-related products. MEPs want the new rules to be in place in 2021.

MEPs also back initiatives to fight planned obsolescence, improve the durability and reparability of products and to strengthen consumer rights with the right to repair. They insist consumers have the right to be properly informed about the environmental impact of the products and services they buy and asked the Commission to make proposals to fight so-called greenwashing, when companies present themselves as being more environmentally-friendly than they really are.

Making crucial sectors circular

Circularity and sustainability must be incorporated in all stages of a value chain to achieve a fully circular economy: from design to production and all the way to the consumer. The Commission action plan sets down seven key areas essential to achieving a circular economy: plastics; textiles; e-waste; food, water and nutrients; packaging; batteries and vehicles; buildings and construction.
Plastics

MEPs back the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, which would phase out the use of microplastics.

Read more about the EU strategy to reduce plastic waste.

Textiles

Textiles use a lot of raw materials and water, with less than 1% recycled. MEPs want new measures against microfiber loss and stricter standards on water use.

Discover how the textile production and waste affects the environment.

Electronics and ICT

Electronic and electrical waste, or e-waste, is the fastest growing waste stream in the EU and less than 40% is recycled. MEPs want the EU to promote longer product life through reusability and reparability.

Learn some E-waste facts and figures.

Food, water and nutrients

An estimated 20% of food is lost or wasted in the EU. MEPs urge the halving of food waste by 2030 under the Farm to Fork Strategy.

Packaging

Packaging waste in Europe reached a record high in 2017. New rules aim to ensure that all packaging on the EU market is economically reusable or recyclable by 2030.

Batteries and vehicles

MEPs are looking at proposals requiring the production and materials of all batteries on the EU market to have a low carbon footprint and respect human rights, social and ecological standards.

Construction and buildings

Construction accounts for more than 35% of total EU waste. MEPs want to increase the lifespan of buildings, set reduction targets for the carbon footprint of materials and establish minimum requirements on resource and energy efficiency.

Waste management and shipment

The EU generates more than 2.5 billion tonnes of waste a year, mainly from households. MEPs urge EU countries to increase high-quality recycling, move away from landfilling and minimise incineration.

Find out about landfilling and recycling statistics in the EU.

Continue Reading

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