5 Jun 2017
We need to accelerate the transition towards a circular economy
The European Union has set admirably high targets for circular economy waste management. However, several member states are still far behind the targets and there is much work to do regarding waste management, not least reducing it to a minimum, or otherwise recycling, reusing, repairing or refurbishing it. The key to success lies in collaboration between different operators.
In 2015, the European Commission adopted an ambitious Circular Economy Package, designed to stimulate Europe’s transition to a circular economy. The package contained a Circular Economy Action Plan and many elements of this plan are currently being implemented. Early in 2017, the EU announced that the Circular Economy Package would be updated to a new level, requiring municipal waste to be recycled even further, with a new benchmark set at 70%.
Currently, recycling rates for different member range, for example, from 64% in Germany and 39% in France, to 12% in Malta and Slovakia, while the EU average is around 44%.
The reasons behind increasing the waste targets are the result of many interlinked factors
In order to create more recycling the materials used need to be recyclable.
Consumers need to make responsible decisions and be educated with regards to the different lifecycles of materials. Positive developments include the fact that municipal waste per capita in the EU has decreased from 532 kg per person in 2007, to 474 kg per person in 2014. Additionally, the change in recyclability has increased from 31% in 2004 to 44% in 2014.
Also more users of recycled materials are needed. In most of the cases, recycled materials are more cost effective than virgin materials. However, the supply does not currently meet the demand, and the sources of recycled materials are scattered all around Europe. Other differences are evident: the recycling of wooden packaging, for example, currently represents a challenge throughout Europe, but recycled paper and cardboard packaging is on a decent level in almost all of the member states. It is clear though that recycling and collecting recycled materials ought to be made as easy for the consumer as possible.
Additionally, waste treatment needs legislative incentives.
The 2012 Packaging Waste Regulations are a good example of standardised recycling guidance. Additionally, the Landfill Regulation in 2013 contributes to the planning of waste management, but the role of normative steering could be greater, as the national implementation of the circular economy package plays a key role in promoting recycling.
Finally, the role of the municipalities must not be minimised or neglected. Public procurement is a major tool in terms of advancing the use of recyclable and recycled materials. A concept recently developed by Pöyry, the Recyclable Factory, is a great example of the use of recyclable materials. According to our research, it is possible to build 100% recyclable public buildings or even industrial plants. Now we are looking for a pilot case.
Potential is huge - but still a long way to go
As is clear from the information and data cited above, there is much to work on in the field of recycling. That is why it is important that aims related to recycling are advanced simultaneously across multiple sectors. It pays to be dedicated to the cause, because when the full potential of the circular economy becomes a reality, the benefits for all will be incredible.