Talks Circular economy

Circular economy: what is Europe doing?

 By Eniday Staff
Circular economy

In terms of the development of circular economy across Europe, the current scenario shows a desire from European institutions to ride a new wave of growth based on reconciling economic growth with environmental benefits…


Existing long before the concept of the circular economy, a focus on material reuse emerged out of Japan in the 1990s. The Toyota Way, rival to the American Lean Manufacturing, focused heavily on eliminating and reusing as many materials as possible. A generation on, this has become standard corporate practice, albeit with varying levels of success. The EU has passed targets, mandating for 50 percent of household waste to be reused by 2020. A number of other targets have already been met. However, the low rate of reuse across the bloc as shown here means there is still a long way to go.

Private companies tend to be protective of the way they do things. BMW reuses and recycles 85 percent of its products in Germany but does broadcast how it does it. IKEA has complained that it cannot place collection bins in every store.
So how are patents changing this paradigm? Many of the patents offering real, long-term solutions to problems of foreign currency, mechanical repair and more are originating in the SME sector. Many countries have programs in place to help SMEs enter the supply chains of larger firms. Doing so in the circular economy could trigger investment that is as impactful as it is original.

This recycling rate, measured by town or locality, is preferred as it reveals the truths about effective local applications of national recycling policies. Germany’s leadership position rests on a core concept. In 1991, a new law made manufacturers responsible for the recycling of their own packaging. Since updated several times, this law means producers must reduce waste, recycling what can be recycled and safely dispose of what can’t be.
A similar model has been taken over in several neighboring countries, including Austria and Slovenia. In Italy, different companies have been created to handle different types of waste, making producers responsible for their waste has proved to be a game-changer.

The generation and recycling of waste is often considered to be the be-all and end-all of how a society tackles environmental improvements. Part of the aim of the circular economy is to put an end to this narrow interpretation. However, the generation of waste per capita remains a useful and easily accessible metric to understand.
With its 777kg per person, Denmark is by far the main culprit here. This is due to several factors, with Denmark having 85% of residents in urban areas, which generate more trash, and having one of the EU’s highest purchasing powers. Eastern European companies generate the least trash per capita but this is more due to differences in GDP and consumer habits rather than exemplary public policy.

This category can seem nebulous. With investments being measured as totals and not per capita, it is no surprise to see the EU’s largest economies leading the way. However, private sector investment in the circular economy is about quality as much quantity. The vast majority of investments have targeted waste management, as a result of policies placing the onus on companies to handle their waste. This has seen upstream opportunities fall by the wayside. In the next decade, investment is expected to shift upstream, such as changes in design, the elimination of toxic materials, changing chemical compositions, and more.

Cover image by: Bankenverband (Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

READ MORE: A circular world is possible by Mike Scott

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Eniday Staff