Strategies for going circular
Transition to a circular economy
Governments have selected economic sectors and value chains that will be the first to switch to a circular economy. Much is already being done in these sectors to move towards a circular economy throughout Europe.
These economic sectors are:
- biomass and food;
- manufacturing industry;
- construction sector;
- consumer goods.
Global use of plastic has increased 20-fold over the past 50 years. And it is expected to double again in the next 20 years. Worldwide, 299 million tonnes of plastics are produced every year, 20% of them in Europe. Most plastics are used in packaging: the rate in Europe is nearly 40%. At the same time, more and more biobased and biodegradable plastics are entering the market, as an alternative to plastics made from fossil fuels like petroleum. The aim is to use only renewable (recycled and biobased) plastics by 2050. But this can only be achieved if the technology exists. It depends, for example, on the quality of recycled plastic.
More and more products are being made, especially in sectors like the electronics, machine and car industries. This also means that more and more raw materials are being used. The extraction and processing of raw materials create problems for the environment, climate and sustainability. At the same time raw materials are becoming scarcer. And there are conflicts in many of the countries supplying them. The quality of raw materials is also declining.
The business community should become more aware of the vulnerability of natural resources. By 2050 many critical materials will have to be reused and recycled, including scarce raw materials like ‘rare earth’ metals. Reuse means putting a product to the same use again. For example, using second-hand parts in a new car. Recycling means turning materials into new raw materials. For example, by recycling plastic into pellets for making new plastic products.
It’s estimated that the construction sector
- uses 50% of all raw materials;
- accounts for 40% of the total energy consumption; and
- 30% of total water consumption.
40% of waste is construction and demolition waste. The construction industry is also responsible for 35% of CO2 emissions. It is therefore stepping up efforts to save energy and cut emissions. There are many ways to use raw materials more efficiently and reduce waste. By 2050 buildings and other structures must be built, (re)used, maintained and demolished sustainably. They must be energy neutral and made of sustainable materials.
Biomass and food
Biomass (dead, biodegradable plant material and animal fats) is an essential raw material in the circular economy. It is used for food and animal feed and also for making all kinds of other products, like textiles, paper, chemicals and energy. It is therefore very important for reducing our CO2 emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. Using biomass will make the economy greener (biobased economy), especially sectors that make a big contribution to exports.
Discarded consumer goods are already separated and recycled on a large scale. But at least half of them are still incinerated or landfilled. Governments want all consumer goods to be sustainable and made from universally available raw materials by 2050. Waste products must be recycled and used to make new products. There should be no waste left over.
Are you involved in any of these business sectors and want to contribute to eco-innovation?