In a circular economy, products and the materials they contain are highly valued. This contrasts with the traditional, linear economic model, which is based on a ‘take-make-consume-throw away’ pattern. In practice, a circular economy minimises waste through reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products.
About five tonnes of waste per capita are generated in the European Union (EU) each year, with municipal waste accounting for about 10 % of the total. Currently, over a quarter of municipal waste is landfilled and less than half is recycled or composted, with wide variations between Member States. The amount of municipal waste per capita and per year, a possible indicator for waste prevention, also varies significantly across Member States.
Materials are key to our economy and well-being, yet materials supply poses some challenges. The stocks of materials we use are growing each year, making new inputs necessary even with high reuse and recycling rates. In addition, the supply of raw materials is associated with risks, such as price volatility, availability and import dependency. The EU currently imports, in raw material equivalents, about half the resources it consumes. The good news is, however, that material consumption is no longer closely linked to economic growth; in other words, we are now using our resources more efficiently.
There are a number of ways to make smarter use of our resources. These include: improving the implementation of the ‘waste hierarchy’, a concept in EU legislation which sets priorities among waste prevention and treatment options; increasing the lifetime of products; and sharing our resources using new business models.
Moving towards a more circular economy could deliver benefits, including reduced pressure on the environment; enhanced raw material supply security; and increased competitiveness, innovation, growth and jobs. However, the move also poses challenges, such as finance, key economic enablers, skills, consumer behaviour, business models and multi-level governance.
The EU has set itself ambitious goals (‘to live well, within the limits of the planet’ by 2050). In 2015, the European Commission pledged to take many actions to promote transition towards a circular economy, and the European Parliament is now monitoring their implementation.
The circular economy is set to become an important part of EU citizens’ daily lives. Our new animated infographic on the circular economy provides a visual explanation of the main concepts, as well as the facts and figures which underpin the movement.