The circular economy is becoming a central topic in policy and business circles. It is presented as the sustainable alternative to the traditional linear model of economic growth, which has already reached its limits. The linear economy is based on ‘take-make-use-dispose’, whereas the circular economy encourages the reparability of products and the reuse of materials.
But, what is exactly the circular economy? It entails a change in the whole economic paradigm, from the first stages of product design, to the production process and waste management in order to convert waste into useful resources. In this model, the resources are minimised and the live of the materials is prolonged. There is a considerable decrease of waste as when a product has reached the end of its life the resources are reintroduced into the economy.
There are economic opportunities linked to this model as it is intended to boost resource productivity, to provide substantial net material cost savings, to create employment opportunities, and increase innovation. Furthermore, there are environmental and system-wide opportunities. The most relevant ones are the reduction of emissions and primary material consumption, the preservation and improvement of land productivity, and a reduction in negative externalities.
However, the opportunities are not only for businesses as citizens will also benefit from the circular economy model. A greater utility can be reached as a result of more choice, lower prices, and lower total cost of ownership. Political and business circles already recognize its economic and environmental gains.
With the increasing visibility and awareness regarding this topic the European Commission launched the new Circular Economy Package, which seeks to promote resource efficiency throughout the value chain, proposing targeted actions at each stage including product design, manufacturing, usage and end-of-life treatment. Initiatives will include “targeted action” in food, construction, industrial and mining waste, and public procurement. The EC made clear that the circular economy is as much about the economy as it is about the environment.
In order to contribute to the transition towards a more circular economy the AER has been working on this subject from its different committees. The most recent initiative is the Regional Innovation Award 2016 which is dedicated to circular economy projects.