By Domingo Jiménez Beltrán Co-founder of Reloop

In order to meet its 2050 objectives and fully contribute to meeting the global 2 °C target, the EU will need to accelerate its implementation of new policies, while restructuring the ways that Europe meets its demand for energy, food, transport and housing. For the decarbonization process to succeed, it must be accompanied by de-energization and dematerialization processes.

This means that the three EU 2050 Road maps are linked and thus, the resource efficient strategies, including Circular Economy, can be pulled into the fast lane already in place for the Energy-Climate Change package.

Looking at the policy efforts made in the last 20 years at EU level related to resource use and waste, my conclusion is simple: If we only took notice of what we know and if we just did what we have already agreed…”. The main idea for a Circular Economy is not new, we only need to put into practice what we have already agreed on!

1994 5th Environment Action Programme

2000 6th Environment Action Programme

2000 Socioeconomic Agenda

2001 Sustainable Development Strategy

2005 Declaration on General Principles for Sustainable Development

2005 Socioeconomic Agenda Review

2005 Sustainable Development Strategy Review

2005 Thematic Strategies on Natural Resources and Waste

2008 EU 2020 Strategy for smart, inclusive and competitive economy

2011 Roadmap for moving to a low-carbon economy in 2050

2011 A resource-efficient Europe – Flagship initiative under the Europe 2020 Strategy

2011 EU Energy Roadmap 2050

2013 7th Environment Action Programme

2014 Circular Economy Package

Some thoughts for a better circular economy:

  • Initiate the process in a good disposition, thanking President Juncker for the withdrawal of the Circular Economy (CEC) package and for his compromise to reshuffle, which has brought the project to higher public and political attention than expected and will hopefully contribute to make it a real instrument for efficient use of resources and progress towards zero waste.
  • Have clear purposes in mind for a Circular Economy proposal.
  • Upgrade and mainstream the CEC proposal into actual EC priorities (3Es economics, employment, energy-CC, with eco innovation as a guide).
  • Align the wishful 2050 scenario with the existing 2050 Roadmaps
  • Identify clear related targets on materials efficiency for 2020-2030, in line and in addition to the well-established and accepted 2020-2030 packages for Energy and CC, so they can be included in the related benchmarking process that is part of the EU Semester and EEA and EUROSTAT Reporting process.
  • Identify some actions or proposals that are “low hanging fruits” and that can be considered as vectors for change towards a CEC, like Deposit Systems for Beverage Packaging.

All which allows us to begin launching the foundation of a better Circular Economy

  1. We have to move to a more proactive approach, the real reduction of waste will not come from Waste policies as such, as already verified, but from a more effective, efficient, and sufficient use of resources associated to a real change in the production and consumption patterns towards more sustainable ones. We have to move from managing waste to managing resources. Zero waste as a result of efficient Resource use and Circular Economy.
  2. There is a tremendous resistance to changing the production and consumption paradigms. We need vectors for change that can put the sustainable use of resources in the socioeconomic and political mainstream so it becomes a priority and is managed properly.
  3. We can profit from the ongoing experience on the much highlighted Sustainability- Energy-Climate Change debate where the necessary and opportune change in the Energy system (now the Energy Union) has become the driving force for CC mitigation (as a result more than a target) and also the vector for a more sustainable economy.

But, in order to put Circular Economy on the agenda, it has to provide:

  • For moving faster out of the crisis, oriented towards a sustainable future.
  • For reduction, or austerity, of the “bad” options -the use of non-renewable natural resources, materials and energy-, and sustainable increases of the “ good” – increase the use of renewable resources and in particular the most renewable and necessary resource, employment-. It should reverse the trend of attaining higher increase in labor productivity than in materials and energy.
  • For moving from unsustainable construction, production and consumption, to sustainable reconstruction, “reproduction” and reuse patterns.
  • For moving from a supply driven market economy (the “cola” syndrome)  to a social economy market, driven by demand . To rationalize demand (effective+ efficient+ sufficient) and optimize supply, with eco-innovation as the driver.
  • For moving from a market economy, dominated by products and associated services, to a market providing products as part of a service required by society. From selling the product to selling services, ending programmed obsolescence and opening the way to reuse and redesign. We must start selling the content (when consuming goods as beverages) and not the container or the package.
  • For expanding, consequently, producers’ and services provider’s responsibilities to cover the full life cycle of the product provided as part of the service, and not from cradle to grave but from cradle to cradle.
  • For expanding also consumer responsibility, as in many cases consumers may became self providers, as in renewable electricity and home generation and consumption. To progress in the empowerment of civil society by technological progress.

In summary, the emergence of resource efficiency and low-carbon economy as European policy priorities is based on the recognition that the prevailing model of economic development -based on steadily growing resource use and harmful emissions- cannot be sustained in the long term.

A clear link should be made with the 2050 Road Map for EU efficiency in the use of resources, establishing a proper transition process and identifying losers and winners. The Road Map focus, to date, is on boosting resource productivity, not on achieving an absolute decoupling of resource use or ensuring ecological resilience that the CE should aim to achieve.

Let us make it happen.