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Facts on circular economy in the EU & worldwide: what, where, who & how

7. How can the goods production be better adapted to a circular economy?

    Conceptual model of innovations
    Conceptual model of innovations
    Source: Factor 5 Report

    Circularity must be conceived at the global level but adapted and implemented at the local level. The circular economy starts at the beginning of a product's overall life cycle, since the production phase represents a global impact on the environment, the supply of resources but the consumption patterns and the generation of waste are local issues22

    The UNEP Panel assessment on “decoupling” identified the priority environmental impacts that interact in turn to lead to impacts on ecosystem health, human health and natural resource depletion. It identified the economic activities most associated with the resource and emissions pressures causing these environmental problems23. And in its conclusions (pg 11), the UNEP Panel’s clearly shows that “absolute decoupling” is possible. Technologies are available, as are examples of successful policies, price signals and incentives

    Of course, innovation and investments are also indispensable and the Panel has identified areas for further research in this field. Its upcoming report, Decoupling in Practice, describes successful examples of decoupling technologies and policies that can be used to achieve it and, an emerging work stream on innovation will identify and quantify the potential role of innovations in the global decoupling process.

    For the Factor 5 report, innovation in these areas is one of the keys and will need to take the form of a learning economy, where information is shared, rather than one knowledge economy, where information is patented and protected.

    Some of the ways EU foresees to help to innovate globally for a circular economy are better and more ecological product design and production processes, direct economic incentives for producers to make products that can easily be reused or recycled, and supporting innovative industrial processes.

    Among the initiatives of the EU program26:

    • Measures to reduce food waste, including improved expiry dates for their consumption, reporting and instruments for achieving the global sustainable development goal of halving food waste by 2030;
    • The development of quality standards for secondary raw materials to enhance operator confidence in the single market;
    • Measures promoting the sustainability, repairability and recyclability of products, in addition to energy efficiency in the ecodesign work plan for 2015-2017;
    • A revision of the fertilizer regulation to facilitate the recognition of organic and waste-based fertilizers within the single market and to enhance the role of biological nutrients;
    • A strategy on plastics in the circular economy, addressing issues such as recyclability, biodegradability, the presence of hazardous substances in certain plastic materials and marine litter, the drastic reduction of which is subject to the Sustainable development objectives;
    • A series of actions in the field of water reuse, including a legislative proposal on minimum requirements for wastewater reuse.

    22 Factor 5: Transforming the Global Economy through 80% Improvements in Resource Productivity by Ernst von Weizsäcker et al (2009/2010). 
    23 The IRP report on Priority Products and Materials identified the economic activities causing the highest environmental impact from several entry points: production sectors, consumption categories and materials categories. In the first priority list lie vehicle manufacturing, iron/crude steel production, livestock farming and non-metal extraction ; in the second priority list are found meat processing, concrete products, milk processing, other foodstuff, industry chemistry cement/lime/gypsum and paper industry. Responsible resource management for a sustainable world: findings by the International Resource Panel: Report of the Executive Director: UNEP/GC.27/INF/13, page 3 
    26 On his side, the European Environment Bureau developed different scenarios for future waste and resources targets Indicators and waste policy scenarios to deliver a resource efficient and sustainable Europe. 

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