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- Circular Economy
Working Together toward a Circular Economy in Europe
The European Commission is taking the lead on circular economy strategies through the circular economy package. Thus, an increasing number of industry associations and companies in Europe are working toward a circular economy. They are devising ways to implement related measures to reap the benefits while also preparing for upcoming regulations and directives.
Earlier this year, Ecofys, a Navigant company, and Fipra organised a roundtable discussion with industry coalitions, private sector, and the European Commission on the circular economy package, with a focus on the upcoming Strategy on Plastics. The aim was to gain more clarity regarding the current direction and expected content of the strategy that the European Commission will publish by the end of 2017. Ecofys and Fipra are working together with complementary specialisations and a common goal of furthering the narrative about the circular economy. Ecofys specialises in strategic insights, research, and analysis while Fipra specialises in public affairs strategies. This combination of skills is critical to proactively developing substantiated, viable alternatives to the challenges presented by the circular economy.
Cooperation between Stakeholders
The key message of the roundtable discussion based on feedback from participants was the importance of cooperation between all stakeholders in the value chain to find creative solutions to making the plastics materials stream circular. According to the roadmap on the plastics strategy released by the European Commission in January 2017, the three challenges the Commission plans to tackle are the following:
- High dependence on virgin fossil feedstock
- Low rate of recycling and reuse of plastics
- Significant leakage of plastics into the environment
The European Commission plans to conduct a variety of actions, including studies and analyses on alternative feedstocks, reuse, recycling, marine litter, and micro-plastics. It also plans to develop standards for secondary raw materials and the biodegradability of plastics, as well as consider policy tools such as extended producer responsibility (EPR) aimed at increasing the recyclability of products.
Not a One-Size-Fits-All Approach
For a business, this transformation to a circular economy is about efficiency gains, both in terms of input and output, and ensuring each part of its value chain is being targeted. Factors such as shifting focus from product design to usage of recycled content, investing in recycling processes and technology, and creating a market for secondary raw materials based on competitive prices, quality, and quantity are all essential drivers in this transition.
Companies should emphasize all levels of the value chain, including all economic operators and the final customer. A more holistic lifecycle approach should be taken to evaluate where along the chain the most efficiency gains can be made. This transition to the circular economy will be a long one, and it can only be sustained if it is profitable for businesses. It’s also important to note that recycling cannot be a goal in and of itself. Rather, it should be seen as a means to an end.
The application of the waste hierarchy in the member states will also be heavily considered in all actions within the strategy by the European Commission. The main concern for the private sector is that the competitiveness of European businesses is ensured to encourage a successful transition to the circular economy.
The key positive takeaway from the discussion on the circular economy with multiple stakeholders is that there is great interest and belief in this important issue, as well as the desire to implement related measures. However, the motivation to act needs to be accompanied by specific implementation steps to accomplish the transition in companies and sectors.