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Over the last few years the concept of chemical recycling has been promoted by industry as a potential solution to help curb plastic pollution and waste management as a whole. This Zero Waste Europe report looks into the knowledge available as well as the state of implementation of such technologies in the European context.
Mechanical recycling is a mature industrial process, well established and expanding in Europe. Plastics cannot however be endlessly recycled mechanically without reducing their properties and quality. Besides, not all plastic types can be mechanically recycled. These limits set challenges for plastics recycling and show the need for significant improvements in the end-of-life management of plastics.
Since decades, innovators test gasification and pyrolysis for alternatives to waste to energy incineration with very limited results due to the energy balance and the environmental impact. In general, more information is needed about the environmental performance of chemical recycling technologies, as this industry is in its infancy and most plants are mere pilots. The roll-out of such technologies at industrial scale can only be expected from 2025-2030, an important factor when planning the transition to a Circular Economy and wider decarbonisation.
The right policy framework must accommodate chemical recycling as complementary to mechanical recycling while ensuring that carbon stays in the plastic, thus not being released into the environment. Therefore, allowing plastic to fuels to be considered chemical recycling risks creating a loophole in EU Climate and Circular Economy legislation.
The Elephant in the Boardroom: Why Unchecked Consumption is Not an Option in Tomorrow’s Markets is a working paper from the World Resources Institute that can guide discussion within companies about an uncomfortable truth: many of today’s business models are not fit for tomorrow’s resource-strained world.
Normalizing the conversation will set the groundwork for the pursuit of new business models that allow growth within the planet’s limits and generate stakeholder value in new and exciting ways.
This research, part of the CEC4Europe factbook on the circular economy published in September 2018, evaluates 131 projects from the Circular Economy Industry Platform (CEIP) regarding their contribution to circular economy from both a scientific and political perspective.
Content analysis was applied to derive qualitative and quantitative information from company statements on the platform. This was supplemented by qualitative, semi-structured interviews with company representatives on selected projects. Results showed a diverse approach to circularity across the sample projects, thereby partly expanding the sectoral focus of the circular economy package.
Eco-design, eco-innovation and business models acted as strong enablers for circular actions in the sample, reflecting respective EU policies.
At the same time, sample projects heavily relied on recycling while missing out on potentially more efficient circular principles such as reduction or reuse.
High diversity in criteria was found regarding the evaluation of overall environmental impacts, with some projects using purely qualitative assessment methods, while other projects presented elaborate quantitative environmental evaluations, including significant positive impact potential. Regulatory challenges were specifically reported regarding the introduction of sound circularity quotas and targets, regarding definitional ambiguities, as well as regarding issues around unknown material compositions that currently impede recirculation.
The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment unites businesses, governments, and other organisations behind a common vision and targets to address plastic waste and pollution at its source. It is led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with the UN Environment Program. Launched in October 2018, the Global Commitment already unites more than 400 organisations in its common vision of a circular economy for plastics, keeping plastics in the economy and out of the ocean. Signatories include:
- close to 200 businesses that are part of the plastic packaging value chain, jointly representing over 20 % of all plastic packaging used globally, including many of the world’s leading consumer packaged goods companies, retailers, and plastic packaging producers
- 16 governments across five continents and across national, regional, and city level
- 26 financial institutions with a combined USD 4.2 trillion worth of assets under management and 6 investors in total committing to invest about USD 275 million
- leading institutions such as WWF, the World Economic Forum, the Consumer Goods Forum, and IUCN
- more than 50 academics, universities, and other educational or research organisations including MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative, Michigan State University, and University College London.
All 400+ organisations have endorsed one common vision of a circular economy for plastics, in which plastics never become waste. As this June 2019 report shows, the number of business signatories has grown from over 100 to nearly 200 in the seven months since the launch.
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has released a report on tackling plastic waste using circular solutions, with a focus on the opportunities chemical recycling provides. After highlighting the scale of the issue, the report presents different ways of solving the plastic waste issue by comparing the impacts of different waste treatment options and technologies, such as pyrolysis. The report concludes that:
“To tackle the colossal societal and environmental issue of plastic waste, we need proportionally meaningful efforts from the private and public sectors as well as society at large that encompass behaviors and habits. The ultimate solutions will involve a combination of judicious consumption and disposal measures as well as the development of cost-competitive and environmentally friendly alternatives. Most observers would agree, however, that these changes are years away. In the meantime—over the next decade or two—we can implement circular solutions to reuse or repurpose plastic waste in the most efficient way.” (Boston Consulting Group, 2018, p. 24).
ECESP Coordination Group members contributed to this report, including Circular Change and Circle Economy.
In March 2019, the Italian Circular Economy Network hosted a national conference on the circular economy, where it presented this Report on the Italian circular economy in 2019. Based on the methodology used, comparing the 5 most important European economies, Italy is the top performer in terms of circular economy implementation, ahead of the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain (in this order). While Italy’s position has remained unchanged compared to the previous year, there are some small signs of a slowdown which must be taken into account.
The report makes the following 10 proposals for a circular economy in Italy:
- Spread and enrich circular vision, knowledge, research and good practices
- Implement a national strategy and action plan
- Improve the use of economic instruments
- Promote a regenerative bio-economy
- Integrate circular principles in public procurement
- Promote city initiatives
- Ensure rapid and effective implementation of the 2018 EU waste framework legislation
- Rapidly activate an effective end of waste (EoW) regulation
- Ensure the necessary business support infrastructure
- Extend circular principles to e-commerce
The Estonian Ministry of the Environment and the Environment Agency will hold a second circular economy conference on 5-6 November in Tallinn.
The Inštitút cirkulárnej ekonomiky (Institute for Circular Economy) is Slovakia’s circular economy network, connecting public actors and private to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in Slovakia.
The Institute regularly publishes overviews of the circular economy in Slovakia, and supports municipalities with improving waste management locally, while also developing circular business models with companies. One such innovative programme specifically targets festival organisers, helping them reduce waste at large scale events.
The Institut Cirkulární Ekonomiky (Institute for Circular Economy) is the Czech Republic’s foremost circular economy non-profit focusing on innovative environmental management. Together with its partners, the Institute works on projects that further the transition from a linear towards a circular system.
These include analytical and educational programmes as well as project management tools for various organisations and individuals, such as:
- Annual Waste as Resource conference for local authorities
- Zajimej.se, the Czech language web portal on circular economy
- Uplatni.se portal connecting companies with students looking for internships and thesis in circular economy
Additionally, the Institute also engages private companies and public sector institutions with research, events, workshops and policy development in the Czech Republic.
The Prague Circular Hub is a joint initiative by the Institut Cirkularni Ekonomiky, Alliance for Renewable Energy and the Brno Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Its vision is to build a cultural and innovation centre which seeks to acquaint the general and professional public with circular economy. With discussions, seminars, conferences, as well as pilot projects aimed at testing new research methods in the field of circular economy, the Prague Circular Hub contributes to the active transformation into a circular system.
While the Hub has already completed a Prague Circular Scan with the support of Circle Economy, it continues to organise regular ‘buzz talks’ and conduct further research to promote the adoption of circular business models in the Czech capital.
Žiedine Ekonomika (Circular Economy) is a Lithuanian association promoting a circular economy. This non-profit organisation networks local, national and European public authorities with companies to help develop circular business models in Lithuania.
In 2018, the Estonian Environmental Management Association established a Circular Economy Forum, which now already counts several companies among its members and receives support from the national Ministry of Environment.
The Circular Economy Forum is an open platform for communication and cooperation to raise business awareness of the circular economy and support wider application of circular business models.
The forum is aimed at companies operating in Estonia that have an interest in applying circular economy principles in practice. Alongside regular events, the forum also publishes good practices from Estonian industry.
To join the forum, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information:
- Company name
- Name and contact details of company representative
- What is your interest in circular economy?
The Hungarian Foundation for Circular Economy established a Circular Hungary Program in 2018, the objective of which is to promote the acceleration to a circular economy transition in Hungary. The program aims to identify obstacles and gaps as well as improve the conditions and environment at technological, regulatory, market, consumer behaviour and financing levels for circular products, practices and projects. This is a business-led initiative, with more than 12 corporations already signed up to take part.
Companies, organisations, institutions and local governments can join the Circular Hungary Program. More information and membership conditions can be found here (in Hungarian)
The WRAP (Waste and Resource Action Plan) is a UK catalyst active in the space between citizens, government and businesses that focuses on maximising the value of waste by increasing the quantity and quality of materials collected for re-use and recycling. It does so by conducting research, brokering voluntary agreements and implementing campaigns to empower consumer action.
- Barriers to Recycling at Home helped hundreds of local authorities build an evidence base and coherent strategy to get communities engaged and committed to recycling.
- Switched on to value identified £1 billion of unused electronics in UK homes, and demonstrates that extending the life of electrical products could save businesses £400 million a year.
- Reducing Food Waste by Extending Product Life motivated supermarket Tesco to source fresh produce more quickly, helping them to offer their customers products that stay fresh for longer.
- Valuing Our Clothes provided the first comprehensive insight into the financial and environmental impact of clothing. It revealed that UK households own £30 billion worth of unused clothing.
- The Courtauld Commitment 2025 is an ambitious voluntary agreement that brings together a broad range of organisations to make food and drink production and consumption more sustainable. It builds on the success of the Courtauld Commitments 1, 2 and 3 in preventing waste and avoiding carbon emissions.
- The Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) brings together industry, government and the third sector to reduce resource use and improve the sustainability of clothing. The agreement targets every stage of the clothing journey, bringing together retailers, brands, re-use and recycling organisations, charities and NGOs, which collectively make up over 40% of UK clothing sales.
- The UK Plastics Pact aims to create a circular economy for plastics. It brings together businesses from across the entire plastics value chain with UK governments and NGOs to tackle the scourge of plastic waste.
- Love Food Hate Waste in partnership with major UK supermarkets. The campaign gives individuals the information they need to recognise and tackle food waste.
- Love Your Clothes offers practical advice to help people make the most of their clothes, as well as demonstrating the benefits of repairing, re-using and recycling them.
- Recycle Now provides information and advice to help individuals recycle more. It is the national recycling campaign for England, used by over 90% of English local authorities.
Circular Norway is Norway's first and only politically independent, independent member organisation that works nationally to transform a linear to a circular economy. On behalf of its members, the association works politically to strengthen framework conditions and increase the pace of change.
Circular Norway helps its members to make better use of their resources and strengthens their competitiveness in the national and international market. Through practical help, expertise and knowledge networks, it makes the transition to a circular economy both easier and more profitable.
The network published the first comprehensive report on Norway and Circular Economy in April 2019, and has also begun producing visual guides to explain the principles of circular economy for a Norwegian audience. Circular Norway was instrumental in bringing the concept to the forefront of political discussion by hosting a session on circular economy at the August 2019 'arendulska political festival'.
Vlaanderen Circulair (Circular Flanders) is the hub and inspiration for the Flemish circular economy. It is a partnership of policymakers, companies, civil society, and the knowledge community taking action together. Its six core activities are:
- Networking partners to tackle circular economy challenges
- Creating knowledge with the Circular Economy Policy Research Centre to streamline policy-related research into policy measures for the circular economy in Flanders
- Speeding up innovation and entrepreneurship
- Assisting pioneers
- Connecting local, Flemish, federal and European policymaking
- Embedding circular principles across Flemish civil society
Key to the Circular Flanders approach are several pillars with a great deal of potential, which bridge and bring together different sectors. Currently, these are circular purchasing, circular cities, and running circular businesses.
Cradlenet is a multi-stakeholder association founded in 2009 to disseminate the Cradle2Cradle concept across Sweden, which has become the country's foremost circular economy network.
Cradlenet aims to accelerate Sweden's transition to a circular economy among companies, organisations and people in order to provide inspiration and momentum, and knowledge about developments in circular thinking.
With all seminars free of charge, Cradlenet members have access to further networking events and knowledge research.
Cradlenet is a non-profit association operating out of Stockholm, and with local networks in Umeå , Malmö and Gothenburg.
Through the Brussels Regional Programme for a Circular Economy, the government of the Brussels-Capital Region has defined a framework to encourage the transformation of a linear economy (extract – produce – consume – dispose) into a circular economy (recover – produce – consume – reuse) within Brussels.
The be circular portal is the entry point to the BRPCE, and networks the regional government with businesses and civil society delivering change on the ground, while also providing information to entrepreneurs about the various direct and indirect support programmes available.
Its projects include the Annual General Meeting linking more than 300 Brussels and European participants, and yearly Prizes for Circular Entrepreneurship. In 2017, be circular supported 222 entrepreneurs and financed 139 projects. A year later, the programme had reached nearly 1,300 businesses.
be circular also collects good practices from the Brussels region, with a particular focus on its four priority sectors: construction, logistics, retail and waste management.
Globe Hope, a Finnish textiles and cosmetics SME, has been creating bags and accessories from recycled and leftover materials since 2003.
The 3rd international PLATE conference (Product Lifetimes and the Environment) will address product lifetimes in the context of sustainability, and is hosted by TU Berlin and Fraunhofer IZM from 18 to 20 September 2019
In the framework of the CIRCWASTE project, coordinated by SYKE (Finnish Environment Institute), pioneering municipalities have developed local circular economy roadmaps in 2019. The City of Porvoo is one of these and published its own circular economy roadmap in May 2019 to steer efforts that promote resource efficiency and circular economy in the coming years, so it can build on successes to date that range.
A steering group of 16 municipal civil servants and other local stakeholders drafted this roadmap, which focuses in particular on the following objectives:
- increasing the use of recycled materials in excavation and building sites
- cooperating to improve energy efficiency
- reducing the amount of total waste while increasing the level of recycling municpal waste.
The amount of high-quality soil and rock is not increasing in Finland, nor is the land area growing. This is why in Porvoo stakeholders are desiging a built environment that takes into account the sustainable use of soil materials and other resources.
Porvoo also aims to reduce food waste and improve the recycling of municipal waste through counselling and outreach for and to citizens. The impact of counselling on the volume of food waste is monitored at schools by weighing plate waste, for example. In addition to this, Porvoo will promote waste sorting by improving the quality of the recycling network using life-cycle analysis.
The roadmap also includes specific circular economy tasks and challenges for the local authorities and companies of the City of Porvoo to implement, with the most urgent having a completion date of 2020 while others have targets for 2030.
ChangeNOW - the world's largest gathering of solutions for the planet - returns to Paris for its 3rd edition from 30 January to 1 February 2020, with more than 1,000 solutions and several inspiring circular economy keynotes.
RWM, the UK's largest waste and recycling industry show, returns to Birmingham 11 to 12 October 2019
- l’ADEME Grand Est,
- la Région Grand Est,
- la CCI Grand Est,
- la Chambre Régionale des Métiers et de l'Artisanat Grand Est,
- la Direction Régionale de l'Environnement, de l'Aménagement et du Logement Grand Est,
- l’Agence de l’eau Rhin-Meuse,
- le Centre International de Ressources et d'Innovation pour le Developpement Durable,
- l’Institut National de l'Economie Circulaire
ont créé collectif-grandest.org, la plateforme collaborative de l’économie circulaire des acteurs de la région. Ce portail territorial rassemble les initiatives, les acteurs, les connaissances, les outils, les actualités et les événements de l’économie circulaire.
Espace de valorisation, de partage et de rencontre, il est au service des collectivités locales, des entreprises et des associations du territoire.
During the European Week of Regions and Cities in Brussels, the Urban Agenda Partnership for Circular Economy will host a workshop on 9 October to help develop its “Roadmap for a Circular Urban Resource Management Plan” for cities.
The Circular Economy Task Force is a business group convened by the Green Alliance. It is a forum for policy, innovation and business thinking on resource use in the UK and is currently chaired by Colin Church, chief executive of IOM3. This task force has already produced a number of reports on resource policy, recycling opportunities and manufacturing productivity.
The task force’s most recent report, Completing the Circle, has placed a spotlight on the amount of material often lost to the economy, once collected, and proposes new measures to complement recycling targets which would help to 'pull' these materials back into use in manufacturing.
Some of the task force's recommendations were picked up by the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee’s Growing a circular economy report, and by the Scottish Government’s Resource Use and the Circular Economy inquiry.
The task force has also established the North Sea Resource Roundabout project, working with the Embassy of the Netherlands in the UK to identify the regulatory barriers to the trade and use of recycled materials across European countries, and working with regulators to develop solutions.
The current members of the task force are Kingfisher, Viridor, Walgreens Boots Alliance, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, and Veolia.