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    Posted August 25, 2014 by

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    Circular Economy in the EU, new directives and funding


    The European Commission under the Europe 2020 strategy, has recently adopted proposals outlining the opportunities that will arise from a transition towards a green, low carbon, energy and resource-efficient economy."The persisting economic system is a linear model where we extract, manufacture, sell, use and throw away. If we re-manufacture, reuse and recycle, with one industry's waste becoming another's raw material, we can move to a more circular economy where waste is eliminated and resources are used in an efficient and sustainable way,"explains Environment Commissioner Potočnik; he is calling for a strong policy to reduce reliance on primary raw materials so that glass, metals, paper, plastics, rubber, wood and other recyclables re-enter the economy as secondary raw materials at competitive prices. The UK, Germany, France and Holland have been previously active in developing initiatives on a circular economy within the Union."Opportunities to businesses of improving resource efficiency" EU report, also says that "waste prevention, eco-design, reuse and recycling could bring net savings of € 600 billion, or 8% of annual turnover, for businesses in the EU,while reducing total annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4%".


    "Towards a circular economy: a zero waste programme for Europe" has among its objectives those of increasing the durability of products, creating markets for recyclable material and reducing the use of what is difficult to recycle. It also promotes eco-design to make products easier to repair, upgrade and re-manufacture; it incentives waste reduction and high-quality separation by consumers.The legislative proposals refer mainly to the Waste, Landfill and Packaging Directives; waste legislation is getting
    simplified.The target is 70% of municipal waste and 80% of packaging
    recycled by 2030.They also want a ban on burying recyclable and
    biodegradable waste in landfill by 2025 and incineration limited to
    non-reusable and non-recyclable materials after waste-to-energy
    recovery and use of bio-fuels is made. According to the Commission successful implementation of the waste legislation will create more than half a million jobs across the Union, also a reduction in the total material requirement would lead up to 3% boost in GDP. Targets were set at levels already achieved today by Austria, Belgium Denmark,Germany, Netherlands and Sweden, which have effectively eliminated the landfilling of municipal waste, reducing itto less than 5% in the past twenty years.

    These initiatives have been adopted together with communications on: Green Employment, Green Action Plan for SMEs, Resource Efficiency Opportunities in the Building Sector, Energy savings target for 2030 and Sustainable European Food System. In the Plan for SMEs for instance,the Eurobarometer assesses resource efficiency trends among SMEs across Europe and the U.S. and the European Resource Efficiency Platform shares with businesses opportunities on how to get materials back into the production process; models such as "collaborative consumption" based on lending, swapping, bartering and renting products are mentioned in the consumption phase.


    During the 7th EAP where these ideas were developed,
    the Resource Efficiency Platform also recommended that the EU should
    aim to a GDP measured on Raw Material Consumption (RMC) for at least a
    30% increase in resource productivity; RMC is"an aggregate indicator
    measuring in tonnes all the resources used in the economy, while
    taking into account resource use embedded in imports";this data
    already available to some Member States, will be available for all if
    the new Commission decides to include GDP/RMC as a headline target in
    the context of Europe 2020 strategy revision. With regards to
    funding, at Green Week conference it has been said that in the EU there
    is an enormous amount of liquidity available for investments such as
    the European Investment Bank, The European Social Fund, the COSME
    programme, Horizon 2020 and the LIFE programme.


    The first report on the circular economy was first launched at the 2012 World Economic Forum in Davos; a collaboration between the WEF, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (UK) and McKinsey & Company (U.S.), reports have been launched every year since.
    This autumn the MacArthur Foundation will be streaming online for free the first Disruptive Innovation Festival. The UK Government has recently published "Growing a circular economy” report. The UK has been active also at university level: UCL Green Economy Policy Commission led by professor Ekins, published "Greening the Recovery" report. The professor stresses the importance of having a "natural capital accounting" system with a similar level of sophistication to the National Accounts we use today. "Globe International" is trying to fill this gap, seeking to establish across the world natural capital accounting processes in line with the recommendations from the UN statistical office. The European Commission with its Environmental Footprint pilot is bringing stakeholders together to develop a common way for measuring the environmental impact of products and organisations within the EU.


    In the fashion industry "closed loop textile" UK company Worn Again says
    that at present only 20% of textile and clothing are recycled
    globally,80% of these valuable resources, are ending up in landfill or
    being incinerated. The company recently developed the first chemical
    recycling process that separates polyester from cotton to turn it back
    into yarn fabric garment.They calculated that 488 million tons is the
    amount of polyester produced since the 1950's,"the equivalent weight
    of 1318 Empire State Buildings"
    , says American founder Cyndi Rhoades,
    "180 million tons of which are still above ground". Rhoades also
    mentions the importance of embedding within companies' financial
    reporting, tools such as "the environmental profit and loss" done by
    Puma and Kering: a voluntary model that measures and reports back the
    environmental impacts of making their products.


    Why a Circular Economy? The health of the planet is measured by three indicators: the
    '"Living Planet Index" shows a decline of 30% since 1970; the
    '"Ecological Footprint", has calculated that we have by far exceeded
    the earth's bio capacity. "Water Footprint" says that many river basins
    suffer from shortages."This is leading to a huge loss of eco-system
    services that are at the bases of our economy
    ,"explains WWF economist
    Godinot. Furthermore the global population is rising by more than 200
    thousand people per day, equivalent to "a new Germany every year,"
    says Potočnik, "at the beginning of the 20th century we were 1.5
    billion,we are currently 7 billion and we will be 9 billion by 2050;we
    will need three times more resources, the demand for water,food,feed
    and fiber, will rise by 70%.In 2030 we will be approximately 40% short
    of drinking water.Today 60% of the ecosystems which are under those
    resources are degraded or used unsustainably.
    " 15 tons of materials is
    used per person yearly, 5 tons of that becomes waste; put
    together,about 600 million tonnes contained in waste are lost
    annually, which could have been recycled,"not to mention the fact that
    the sun produces enough energy in one day to power the world for a
    "explains the Commissioner. We live in a world where Tesla Motors
    opens up its patents, Solar Impulse 2 plane, smart phones with solar
    panels, solar cookers such as One Earth Design's SolSource and floors
    converting energy from footsteps into electricity from Pavegen Systems
    have been invented. Recently at the Natural History Museum the
    "Nano Membrane Toilet" by Cranfield University has been displayed; funded by the Gates Foundation, it is an innovative toilet that works"off-grid"- it does not need access to water, power or sewerage and turns waste into energy,clean water and nutrients.


    Circular economy is thus the key to transform our current model of production
    and consumption into a resource efficient economy, responding to society's future needs.Waste is not just waste. Silvia Lombardo.

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