The economic model of our current era is linear. We take resources from nature, make them into a product and then throw the item away when we’re done with it. The result? Overflowing landfills, trash filled waterways and, too often, toxic waste. This rampant waste of resources poses an existential threat to the world as we know it. A circular economy uses as few resources as possible in product creation; keeps resources in circulation for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while in use; then recovers and regenerates products and their components at the end of their service life. Embracing circular economy principles is perhaps the most essential initiative we can undertake as a global society. We believe it is the only way forward if we want to sustain humankind.

–Intentional Design: Embracing the Circular Economy, Cornerstone Capital Group, October 2019

Amidst these difficult times, we are pleased to see that the European Union has moved forward with a bold, comprehensive plan to embrace the circular economy. The new Circular Economy Action Plan, adopted on March 11, 2020, focuses on the design and production of a circular economy. It aims to ensure that the resources used are kept in the EU economy for as long as possible. The introduction of this new framework follows the December 2019 European Green Deal, which set a roadmap towards a climate-neutral circular economy. [1]

We believe this is an important, proactive policy development that could serve as a model for government entities in other regions. The framework offers some specific guidelines for various economic sectors and lays the groundwork for strong rules and restrictions. We are especially encouraged by the proposals for sectors such as electronics, food and packaging—areas of the economy that tend to generate the most waste.

We recognize that these are recommended guidelines.  Actual legislation still needs to be formulated and passed. Given the current coronavirus pandemic, we suspect that implementation of any legislation will likely be delayed due to the pandemic’s negative economic impact globally. Looking out longer term, however, we believe this type of legislation will be beneficial for the economy and the environment.

Executive Vice President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said: “To achieve climate neutrality by 2050, to preserve our natural environment, and to strengthen our economic competitiveness, requires a fully circular economy. Today, our economy is still mostly linear, with only 12% of secondary materials and resources being brought back into the economy…With today’s plan we launch action to transform the way products are made and empower consumers to make sustainable choices for their own benefit and that of the environment.”[2]

The EU Circular Economy Action Plan:

1)  Propose legislation on a Sustainable Product Policy, to ensure that products placed on the EU market are designed to last longer, are easier to reuse, repair and recycle, and incorporate as much as possible recycled material instead of primary raw material. Single-use will be restricted, premature obsolescence tackled, and the destruction of unsold durable goods banned.

2) Empower consumers so they have access to reliable information on issues such as the reparability and durability of products to help them make environmentally sustainable choices.

3) Focus on the sectors that use the most resources and where the potential for circularity is high. The Commission will launch concrete actions as shown in the table below:

 

Virginijus Sinkevičius, commissioner for the environment, oceans and fisheries, said. “The new plan will make circularity the mainstream in our lives and speed up the green transition of our economy. We offer decisive action to change the top of the sustaina­bility chain–product design. Future-oriented actions will create business and job opportun­ities, give new rights to European consumers, harness innovation and digitali­zation and, just like nature, make sure that nothing is wasted.”[4]

The full EC report can be found here: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/pdf/new_circular_economy_action_plan.pdf

 

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_420

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.gcimagazine.com/marketstrends/regions/easterneurope/Circular-Economy-Action-Plan–568743741.html

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_420