The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines the circular economy in these terms: “Looking beyond the current “take, make and dispose” extractive industrial model, the circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. Relying on system-wide innovation, it aims to redefine products and services to design waste out, while minimising negative impacts. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural and social capital”.
Circular economy. What it is?
A circular economy is one that exchanges the typical cycle of make, use, dispose in favour of as much re-use and recycling as possible. The longer materials and resources are in use, the more value is extracted from them. This could contribute toward reducing world’s dependence on critical materials such as gallium, fluorspar or cobalt , but also reduce overall demand by recovering the nutrients, resources or energy contained in products at the end of their useful life.
Extending the life of materials and products prevents the over-generation of waste and recovers the full value of products. This would create new business opportunities and revenue streams, while decrease the environmental impact, resource extraction, refining and manufacture.
What can Europe do?
Moving towards a more circular economic model is one of the pillars of the EU 2020 strategy. The European Union proposes to define a headline target of material productivity, a measure of the amount of value generated per unit of raw materials or products. Based on GDP relative to raw material consumption, this would be set at 30% by 2030. The package also includes a legislative proposal to review waste targets which includes targets for 70% recycling of municipal waste, 80% recycling of packaging waste and bans on any landfilling of recyclable goods.
Other measures would boost innovation in resource efficiency, and tackle material intensive sectors, such as construction, with measures to improve the material efficiency of buildings through a harmonised framework for life-cycle assessment of buildings and promotion of secondary markets for construction materials.
From the UK, the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on “ending the throwaway society” calls for an ambitious strategy to lay down the right conditions to transition to a more circular economy.
The committee’s proposals are more radical, suggesting lower VAT for recycled products and repair services to encourage innovation, new markets and better eco-design of products. The report also calls for a recycling regime that would improve on the limitations of the current system of many different local schemes.