Waste management and the circular economy are now two connected concepts with a common main goal: a sustainable future for all. But what led to the introduction of the circular economy in daily life?
Differences between linear, recycling, and circular economy. (Photo: littlerecreations.co.uk)
Why “circular” economy?
Nowadays, the increase of the population, as well as the imaginary "need" of humans for more and more goods has led to changes both in society as a whole and in humans themselves who left the concepts of moderation and replaced them with those of greed and his ever-unstoppable need to acquire and consume goods. However, if we consider the human evolution, the increase of wealth and population, as mentioned above, this change has led to an increase in demand for rare raw materials, which are now in much greater demand, as well as to the depletion of natural resources at a faster rate than it can be replenished. This has led to both the degradation of the natural environment and the increase in resource prices. It is noteworthy that that to meet all these needs we would need three planets like Earth.
For these reasons, all the problems that arise from this behavior had to be taken into account by the EU. Thus, on 2 December 2015, the EU adopted an action plan to support the acceleration of Europe's transition to a circular economy with the aim of stimulating global competitiveness, promoting sustainable economic growth, and creating new jobs. This plan provides for 54 measures to "close" the life cycle of products from production and consumption to waste management and the purchase of secondary raw materials. At the same time, it identifies five priority areas whose transition will be accelerated throughout their value chain (plastics, critical raw materials, food waste, construction and demolition, and biomass and materials of biological origin) and places particular emphasis on building strong foundations, which investment and innovation can support and thrive on.
The circular economy is to some extent the evolution of recycling, but it also has a significant difference.
In recycling, a used product is decomposed into raw materials that are recovered for reuse in the production of new products. On the other hand, in the circular economy, the product is designed from the beginning so that it can be reconstructed and re-processed, to be reused as new. The Circular Economy model has a main ambition, to transform “waste” into a concept of the past. For this reason, the Circular Economy model proposes the search of different solutions that keep the resources circulating in the economy, perpetuating its use to the limit of its capacity. This puts a brake on the reckless depletion of the planet's wealth-producing resources and the destruction of the biosphere due to environmental pollution and the resulting climate change. In addition, the circular economy model presupposes new ways of conceiving and designing products. Many countries have put the circular economy at the core of their development strategy, as it contributes to energy savings and the more rational use of natural resources, while allowing for a reduction of air, soil and water pollution, to tackle climate change. In addition to the benefits for the environment, it can contribute to social and economic prosperity, creating jobs and being a source of growth and innovation.
An illustration of a “Circular economy”, more materials can “be kept” in the circle of production and consumption. (Photo: www.fcc-group.eu)
Now aware of the European Commission's sustainable plan on the circular economy, it is time to focus on one of its objectives, which is waste management in the European Union, as richer countries tend to produce more waste, while tourism contributes to higher rates of municipal waste. Waste reduction and proper treatment are considered necessary to reduce their impact on the environment. That is why the EU aims to prevent waste and reuse products as often as possible. If this is not possible, the recycling method is proposed in combination with the use of waste for energy production. The most harmful activity to the environment and health is the simple disposal of waste, for example through landfills, which is the most common method of waste disposal in many countries, as it is one of the cheapest options.
Statistics and targets
The EU emphasizes the complete avoidance of waste and its conversion into high quality secondary resources, which benefit from the smooth operation of a secondary raw material market. Surveys have distributed waste in Europe as follows: 0.8% in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, 8.5% in households, 10.3% in industry, 25.3% in mines and quarries, 36.4% in construction and 18.7% in other types of waste. The Commission has also explored the possibility of establishing a harmonized model, at European level, for separate waste collection and labeling. The action plan also proposes a series of measures aimed at minimizing EU waste exports and tackling illegal waste shipments. The main goal is to improve by 2035.