Home Science What is the circular economy? Why does it benefit us all?

What is the circular economy? Why does it benefit us all?

Economia circular

The circular economy: discover what it means and what benefits it has for you, the environment and our economy.

Every year the European Union generates an enormous amount of waste, over 2.2 billion tonnes. The EU is aware of this problem and is working to update its waste management legislation. The main goal is to promote a shift towards a more sustainable model called the circular economy.

But what exactly does circular economy mean? And what would be the advantages?

What is the circular economy?

The circular economy is an approach to production and consumption that promotes collaboration, rental, reuse, repair, renewal and recycling of existing materials and products for as long as possible. This makes it possible to significantly extend the life cycle of the products.

In order to reduce waste to a minimum, efficient materials management is required in practice. When a product reaches the end of its useful life, we do not throw it away, but rather try to keep its materials in the economy through recycling. Through this process, they can be reused to create new products and add more value instead of wasting them.

We are witnessing a significant shift in the traditional economic paradigm towards a move away from a linear approach. This conventional approach is based on a sequence of production, consumption and waste. In contrast, we pursue a more sustainable and conscious model that aims to reduce energy and material consumption while promoting reuse and recycling.

Within this model there is also planned obsolescence, where a product is designed for a limited period of use in order to encourage consumers to purchase it again. The European Parliament has called for action to tackle this practice and prevent it from harming consumers.

Benefits: Why do we need to move to a circular economy?

To protect the environment, it is important to promote the reuse and recycling of products. These practices help reduce the extraction of natural resources, thereby protecting the landscape and habitat. In addition, they help limit the loss of biodiversity on our planet.

The circular economy offers another important benefit: reducing total annual greenhouse gas emissions. According to the European Environment Agency, industrial processes and product use were found to contribute to 9.10% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union. However, appropriate waste management accounts for another 3.32%.

If more efficient and sustainable products are created right from the conception stage, energy and resource consumption could be significantly reduced. This is crucial because it is estimated that more than 80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined during the design phase.

If we switch to products that are more reliable and can be reused, improved and repaired, we could significantly reduce the amount of waste generated. One of the growing problems is packaging: the average European produces around 180 kilos of packaging waste per year. The aim is to combat excess packaging and improve its design to encourage reuse and recycling.

Reduce dependency on raw materials

With global population growth, the need for raw materials is increasing. However, it should be borne in mind that the availability of certain raw materials is limited.

Supply shortages are a challenge for some European Union countries, meaning they rely on other countries to source raw materials. According to Eurostat, around half of the raw materials consumed in the EU are imported.

Since 2002, commodity trade between the European Union (EU) and the rest of the world has experienced significant growth. The total value of trade, which includes both imports and exports, has roughly tripled. However, it is important to highlight that in this trade exchange EU exports are growing faster than imports. However, the EU remains a net importer of raw materials, meaning it still imports more than it exports in this specific category. In 2021, this led to a trade deficit of 35.5 billion euros.

Recycling raw materials helps reduce supply risks. Recycling reduces price volatility, ensures availability and reduces dependence on imports. This promotes a more sustainable and safer approach to material sourcing.

This situation is particularly relevant when it comes to critical raw materials essential for the production of technologies that play a fundamental role in achieving climate goals, such as batteries and electric motors.

Create jobs and save consumers money

Transitioning to a more circular economy has numerous benefits. In addition to increasing competitiveness, it also stimulates innovation, drives economic growth and creates jobs. It is estimated that up to 700,000 jobs could be created in the European Union alone by 2030. This approach towards a sustainable economy promotes balanced and profitable development for all sectors involved.

Redesigning materials and products for circular use would also drive innovation across various economic sectors.

Thanks to advances in product innovation and durability, consumers can now enjoy more durable and innovative products that improve their quality of life. These products also save you money in the long run because they don’t need to be replaced frequently.

What is the EU doing to become a circular economy?

In March 2020, the European Commission presented the Circular Economy Action Plan. This plan aims to promote more sustainable design of products, reduce waste generation and give more power to consumers. A concrete example is the creation of the right to repair, which is intended to ensure that products can be repaired and are not simply thrown away. Particular attention is paid to resource-intensive sectors such as electronics and ICT, plastics, textiles and construction.

In February 2021, Parliament made an important decision by adopting the new action plan for the circular economy. This resolution calls for the implementation of additional measures to achieve a fully circular and environmentally sustainable economy. One of the main goals is to eliminate toxic emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, including stricter recycling standards and binding material use and consumption targets by 2030.

In March 2022, the Commission launched the first package of measures aimed at accelerating the transition to a circular economy. The proposals include various initiatives to promote sustainable products, empower consumers to transition to more environmentally friendly practices, review regulations for construction products and establish a comprehensive strategy for sustainable textiles.

In November 2022, the Commission proposed new packaging rules at EU level. The aim of this initiative is to reduce the amount of waste generated by packaging and improve its design. One way to achieve this is through clear labeling that encourages reuse and recycling. In addition, a transition towards the use of plastics of biological origin that are biodegradable and compostable is sought.

With information from europarl.europa.eu

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