Breaking the circle

17th December 2014 Posted by

With all the debate going on around the EU position on the circular economy at present, emotion can sometimes cloud our view, so it can be useful to stand back and consider the underlying reasons behind the various opposing opinions.

While many in our sector are more than a little disappointed by the European Commission’s view, I can at least understand why it wasn’t necessarily a fait accompli.

In the waste and resource sector we can sometimes forget that we are only one part in the delivery of a circular economy. When we consider packaging waste, for example, our sector can often look at recyclability as a prime driver, whereas packaging producers and retailers may point to 15 years of light-weighting and waste minimisation (longer food preservation for instance) as their key deliverable.

For the EU to consider the circular economy within the construct of targeting growth is obviously essential, especially with the current unemployment rate in Europe and, potentially, more than 120 million (or 24 per cent) of the EU population at risk of poverty or social exclusion (2013 figures) . Furthermore, Eurostat figures suggest that such trends have been on the rise in most EU countries since 2008.  So the EU needs to grow, to maintain and enhance its wealth and I am convinced that the adoption of the circular economy can do that, and secure a long-term future, not just a short-term fix.

However, the transition from linear to circular must happen in a way that can be managed by industry, by markets, by communities and by individuals. If that does not happen, we may end up damaging the very industries we want to become circular, or may not make the social changes required to deliver circularity.

So, should the EU look at the circular economy proposals and judge if they deliver at all levels? Yes, they should.

Should the circular economy proposals deliver more broadly than in waste and recycling alone? Absolutely – waste and recycling are an important part of a circular economy but far from being the only subject.

Should the EU drop its circular economy drive? No, I believe it’s fundamental to delivering an internationally competitive European Union and essential if we want to maintain and enhance the quality of life of the people in the EU.

So we should welcome the statement that they want to go beyond waste and recycling and be more ambitious. My only concern is time. The transition from linear to circular will not be easy or quick and to make the change we need to start moving the whole system as soon as is reasonably possible to ensure the transition happens over the next 10 – 15 years. There is no time like the present to make a start!

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