The circular economy seeks to maintain the value of products, materials and resources in the economy. By using resources already present in the economy, it reduces the exploitation of natural resources, decreases waste production and limits environmental pressures.
The circular economy is not just about recycling. It starts with the first concept of a product. It involves reassessing the way it is made and used, and thinking in terms of extending its life, reusing it, dismantling and repairing it. This is eco-design.
The circular economy also relies on different consumption models, such as shared use (collaborative economy) and the consumption of services rather than products (functional economy). Supported by innovative business models, consumption patterns are evolving towards more reuse, repair and reconditioning of products.
Lastly, the circular economy also aims to use resources such as energy, space, water and food more effectively and efficiently.
- refusal, or asking yourself if you really need to buy or develop a product or use a particular material, part or packaging?
- eco-design: the design of a product, good or service with a view to reduce its negative impact on the environment throughout its life cycle without compromising its quality or performance;
- reuse, which extends the use of the product through donations or second-hand sales and gives it a new life;
- restoration is the recommissioning of a product or the extension of its use before or after its disposal by the user;
- reuse of components or disassembly of working (or repairable) parts and elements of products so they can be sorted, sold and given a new life;
- recycling or all techniques for transforming waste after recovery in order to reintroduce all or part of it into the production cycle;
- remanufacturing: reconditioning a used product or component to a level of performance and quality that is the same as or better than that of a new product.
- industrial symbiosis: industrial organisation set up by several economic stakeholders in a given area with a view to the optimal management of resources resulting from trade flows or the grouping of goods and services;
- the functional economy, or the promotion of the use, possession and sale of services related to the product rather than the product itself.
The circular economy distinguishes between technical cycles, which concern materials such as copper, and biological cycles, which concern materials such as wood. The diagram shows how these different materials can be reused and recycled, for example for energy purposes. (Circular economy diagram: https://institut-economie-circulaire.fr/economie-circulaire/)
The circular economy offers many opportunities
Tackling climate change
A significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions stems from the extraction and processing of raw materials. The OECD estimates that the extraction and processing of raw materials account for more than half of global carbon emissions. Efficient and circular resource management is therefore an effective way to reduce our emissions and combat climate change and its consequences.
Tackling biodiversity loss
The extraction and processing of natural resources, including agriculture, are responsible for 90% of biodiversity loss. Production and consumption patterns are among the main indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, while the main direct causes are changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species. Biodiversity provides the ecosystem services that underpin human existence, our quality of life and our economy.
Reducing our dependence on resources
Some raw materials could disappear if their production and consumption continue in a linear fashion. Europe is highly dependent and has the highest net resource imports per capita. Commodity pressures aggravate the risks for companies, such as rising and volatile resource prices and supply disruption. Cobalt, for example, is already a supply risk. The social and environmental disruption linked to resource extraction in third countries is also a cause for concern. These factors are leading companies to reconsider how they use materials and energy. The recovery of materials through eco-design, reuse and recycling and the reviewing of consumption patterns are therefore essential.
Boosting competitiveness and job creation
The circular economy is attracting a growing interest in Europe and elsewhere as a way to create new economic opportunities, especially locally, and reduce countries' dependence on resources.
According to a recent study conducted by the King Baudouin Foundation and Circle Economy, the circular economy currently generates 7.5% of the total number of jobs in Belgium, i.e. 262,000 jobs. A study by Price Waterhouse Cooper estimates the economic potential of the circular economy in Belgium at between 1 and 7 billion euros by 2030, with the creation of 100,000 additional jobs.
An faster pace of technological and organisational innovation in the field of resource efficiency and the circular economy will benefit both Belgium and Europe in terms of competitiveness, the opening up of new markets and job creation.