In Europe there is a move towards a ‘circular economy’ where existing materials and products are reused, repaired, refurbished and recycled. In other words what was once regarded as waste can be turned into a resource, with many economic and environmental benefits. Two leading examples of countries adopting circular economy policies are the Netherlands and UK.
The circular economy in Europe
At the EU-level, resource productivity in the EU grew by 20% between 2000 and 2011. While some of the increase in efficiency was due to the recession if this rate was maintained it would lead to a further 30% increase in efficiency by 2030 and boost GDP by nearly 1%, resulting in an additional 2 million jobs. In addition, if European companies implement waste prevention, eco-design, reuse and other similar measures it could bring net savings of EUR 600 billion while reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4%. Meanwhile, the global market for eco-innovation is currently worth around €1 trillion per annum and is expected to triple by 2030. As such, eco-innovation represents a major opportunity to boost competitiveness and create jobs in European economies.
The circular economy in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, there is already the existence of a recycling infrastructure, an active market for repairs and a popular second-hand market showing the country is capable of moving towards a circular economy. Increasingly, businesses in various industrial supply chains are cooperating in order to generate industrial symbiosis for example re-using waste, energy, water and material streams in an economically responsible way. It is estimated that currently the Netherlands already recycles 78% of its waste, incinerates 19% and dumps only 3%. To increase the circularity of the Dutch economy, particularly in technical fields, means advocating more maintenance and repair works, intensive re-use and increased recycling. With regard to value creation in waste streams the Netherlands has the advantage of being a densely populated country enabling the symbiosis of industrial processes where waste can be directly reused in the production of other goods and services.
The circular economy in the UK
In the UK, the House of Common’s Environmental Audit Committee released its report on Growing a circular economy: Ending a throwaway society that states household recycling rates has reached 43% in England in 2012-13, up from 12% in 2000-01, while it was estimated that in 2010 the UK economy was 22% ‘circular’, up from 8% in 2000. With developments in circular economy technologies it is estimated that by 2030 the UK economy’s circularity could increase to 27% while benefiting from a reduction in material consumption of 30 million tonnes a year. According to the report, waste policy and regulation in England is informed by the ‘waste hierarchy’ where the top priority is waste prevention, followed by preparing for re-use, then recycling, other types of recovery (including energy recovery) and last of all disposal or landfill. The economic benefits of achieving a circular economy is the UK’s GDP could increase by 3 billion pounds a year, while businesses could save 23 billion pounds from low/no cost improvements. By implementing EU circular economy and waste reduction initiatives the report states the UK could save 9 billion pounds a year while adding 50,000 more jobs, while in the manufacturing sector re-manufacturing has the potential to create between 5.6 and 8 billion pounds per annum and support over 310,000 jobs.
In Europe there is a move towards the circular economy with the Netherlands and UK leading the way – the benefit is more jobs and a healthier environment.