The Circular Economy - with over €650 million in EU funding
Europe currently loses around 600 million tonnes of materials which could potentially be recycled or re-used in waste each year. The European Commission (EC) estimates that waste prevention, eco-design, re-use, and similar measures could bring net savings of €600 billion or 8% of annual turnover to businesses in the EU.
To encourage these changes, the EC adopted a new Circular Economy Package in December 2015, to stimulate Europe's transition towards a Circular Economy, boosting global competitiveness and fostering sustainable economic growth within the EU. According to the EC, the four legislative proposals put forward could also create over 170,000 jobs directly in the EU by 2035.
At the moment the package is under the European Parliament's procedures, and is also being intensely debated by different stakeholders, especially businesses and EU member states. "Whenever we talk about the outlook of the policies in the Circular Economy, I think it is important to understand that every policy actor will have to contribute. We need a kind of agreement at a global level, and that is really important because only it will remove the possibility of anybody saying 'Why us, why don't the others do it?'" said Dr Janez Potočnik, co-Chair of the UNEP International Resource Panel and expert on the Circular Economy.
In the sectors of re-use, re-manufacturing and repair, for example, the cost of re-manufacturing mobile phones could be halved if it were easier to take them apart. If 95% of old mobile phones were collected, this could generate savings of more than €1 billion on the material costs of manufacturing.
The Netherlands, the current President of the Council of the EU (Jan-June 2016), organised a European stakeholder conference "Unwrapping the package - Towards a Circular Economy" in cooperation with the European Commission in Rotterdam in January. An important stakeholder from Slovenia, Ladeja Godina Košir, was at the conference; as Managing Director of Giacomelli media, she connects and facilitates projects and companies in Slovenia who are transforming their models towards a Circular Economy. She believes in the "Circular Economy as a new economic model - not just a package, but a new economy" and this was the message she also gave at the conference.
On May 6, the "Hot Spot" for the Circular Economy will be in Ljubljana. Slovenia will host an international conference, "Embracing the Circular Economy", by the platform Circular Change. At the conference participants will have the chance to hear the views and experiences of different stakeholders in their transition to the circular approach; companies like Aquafil, Avantcar, Iskraemeco, Datalab, and Banka Koper will share their insights.
The keynote speaker will be expert Dr Janez Potočnik, on the topic of "How to Manage the Transition towards a Circular Economy". During his term as the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Potočnik launched and pioneered the implementation of the Circular Economy and other sustainable policies. In a recent interview about the Circular Economy for the World Economic Forum, Dr Potočnik explained that whenever we talk about the major changes in society they have to be connected with the changes in the market. "Very often prices do not reflect the true costs, and some production factors are rewarded more highly than others. So in essence we are dealing with a lot of market failures which have to be addressed," he said.
The EC is aware that the Circular Economy needs more research and innovation, and that both public and private investment will be necessary to make it happen. Horizon 2020, COSME, the Structural and Investment Fund, the Fund for Strategic Investments and other EU programmes will be important support instruments. For example, the EU will help SMEs benefit from the business opportunities of increased resource efficiency through the creation of the European Resource Efficiency Excellence Centre. It will be possible to fully exploit the Horizon 2020 Work Programme for 2016-2017, which includes a major initiative on "Industry 2020 in the Circular Economy" with funding of over €650 million, and, together with the European Investment Bank and the European Investment Advisory Hub, the EC will encourage applications for funding and support the development of projects relevant to the Circular Economy.
A shift from recycling to refurbishing light commercial vehicles, where collection rates are already high, could save material inputs by €6.4 billion per year (about 15% of the material budget) and €140 million in energy costs, reducing GHG emissions by 6.3 million tonnes.
Dr Potočnik, who as a former Commissioner for the Environment launched the first, revolutionary, Circular Economy Package in 2014, believes that the Circular Economy is not only about protecting the environment, but "also makes a serious business case". "Understanding that the existing business model is unsustainable, not just from the environmental point of view but also from a purely economic point of view, is extremely important for all of us. If you are taking this into account you are opening new investment opportunities and new innovation potential and these are fields where business leaders and business are the best. The sooner you see that opportunity, the earlier you will be in the market. And of course those who are the first comers in the market are always rewarded by being the voice of the change," said Potočnik.