Yesterday’s announcement by the European Commission of what it calls an ambitious new circular economy package was something of a eureka moment. In future all of us are going to have to pay attention to how we use and consume resources. We are going to have to get used to thinking a lot harder about the materials that adorn our personal and commercial worlds. There will soon be legislation to force us to do it, but at Flute we have been doing this for seven years.
The EC’s proposed actions will contribute to “closing the loop” of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy. The plans will extract the maximum value and use from all raw materials, products and waste, fostering energy savings and reducing Green House Gas emissions. The proposals cover the full lifecycle: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, said: “Our planet and our economy cannot survive if we continue with the ‘take, make, use and throw away’ approach. We need to retain precious resources and fully exploit all the economic value within them. The circular economy is about reducing waste and protecting the environment, but it is also about a profound transformation of the way our entire economy works. By rethinking the way we produce, work and buy we can generate new opportunities and create new jobs. It sets a credible and ambitious path for better waste management in Europe with supportive actions that cover the full product cycle.”
The broad measures for changing the full product lifecycle go beyond a narrow focus on the end-of-life stage. Innovative and more efficient ways of producing and consuming are urgently required. The biggest corporations and public authorities must now take the lead in insisting that everything they procure meets the required resource efficiency standards. That must start with the simple question: what can we make from the waste we (or others) produce that we might otherwise purchase from new materials? Just asking this question forces a focus on thinking and innovation, that might then be followed by investigation and discovery. There are a lot of clever people working hard in this specialised space, but to date much of this work has gone largely unnoticed. Perhaps with the adoption of this package by the EC it will be possible to get the attention of more of the hitherto lazy corporate minds. We can but hope.