Recently European Commission (EC) announced that it is scrapping plans to introduce a Circular Economy Package. Instead, it will launch a 'broader and more ambitious' waste package next year. The draft circular economy package was aiming to achieve a proposed 70 per cent recycling and reuse target for 2030, as well as a requirement for Member States to recycle 80% of packaging waste by 2030.
This announcement was faced as a step backwards from many stakeholders, including, Environmental Services Association (ESA, UK), Municipal Waste Europe and Friends of Earth but also companies like IKEA and Unilever who officially expressed their disagreement with the EC’s plans to postpone the draft package. On the other hand, CEWEP hopes that “we would like to see an ambitious approach to phasing out landfilling as soon and as much as possible so that the full potential of waste as a resource would be unleashed, by increasing recycling and energy generation from the remaining waste”, as CEWEP’s Managing Director Ella Stengler said (see more here).
The whole discussion seems to be controversial and somehow difficult for the waste management sector. This is why I fully support ISWA’s recent decision to establish a new Task Force on Resource Management to investigate the contribution that the Waste Management Sector can offer to the Circular Economy and to identify the barriers and challenges that need to be overcome to support the transition from waste management to resource management (for more see here).
However, my personal approach is that before getting into the details of the relationship between circular economy and waste management industry, we better examine carefully the concepts of circular and linear economy. Because I believe that the biggest problems and challenges regarding the circular economy are included in its own definition. And although there is no doubt regarding the high benefits of closed loops of materials and the extension of prevention and reuse practices, I have a lot of doubts regarding the circularity of political correctness that is related with circular economy and its impacts to sound waste management practices.
So I will put some conceptual questions and in next posts I will try to outline possible answers.
1. Are there biophysical limits to circular economy or a close to 100% circularity is possible? What can we learn from natural sciences and physics regarding circularities?
2. What is really new in circular economy? How circular economy is related with new materials, product design and consumption? Are we focusing on the business models or the technologies involved? Why is it so attractive for many big companies? How it is related with Big Data systems and the Internet of Things?
3. What we call “circular economy” is the same in developed and developing countries? Is linear economy outdated? Can we have a global uniform approach or circular economy is a privilege of the already rich countries?
4. What a circular economy means for waste management? How it is related with zero waste efforts and recycling? Are landfills and waste treatment plants going to be eliminated? Finally, does circular economy means the end of the waste management industry, as we know it?
Well, I will try to outline some answers for discussion, starting from next week.