Thursday

24th Aug 2017

Is the circular economy a restraint on business, or an opportunity?

  • Repair services could provide a significant potential for job creation. (Photo: John Sattar)

At first glance, the European Union’s “circular economy” strategy, issued last year, seems like bad news for businesses.

In effect, it is telling us to spend and use less.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • “Steel is 100% recyclable; a ‘permanent’ material. This means that it is the key to the functioning of the circular economy,” says Axel Eggert, director general of the European Steel Association (Eurofer). (Photo: voestalpine)

Don’t buy a new phone, buy a used one. Don’t buy a plastic bag, reuse a cloth bag. Don’t buy a car, share one with your neighbour.

A lot of businesses only hear one message: don’t buy.

Buying has long been the centre of the Western world’s economic model, what some have termed the “throw-away society”. We buy something, use it until it breaks, throw it out and buy a new version. The European Commission has proposed an alternative economic model.

"Our planet and our economy cannot survive if we continue with the 'take, make, use and throw away' approach,” said Frans Timmermans, the commission’s first vice-president, as he unveiled the package at the end of 2015. “We need to retain precious resources and fully exploit all the economic value within them.”

The Commission has been keen to stress that the new economic model is not a punishment or a restraint, but rather an opportunity to squeeze out the maximum value and efficiency in Europe’s production and use process. But is it really?

Good news, bad news

For those manufacturers who some suspect engage in “planned obsolescence” – deliberately designing products to stop working earlier than they need to – this might be bad news.

Under the circular economy model a manufacturer is liable for dealing with their old products once they stop working, rather than having the taxpayer foot the bill for putting them in a landfill.

So too could a circular economy mean lower sales for retailers, whose customers may not be buying at such a frenetic pace.

The commission plans to put new requirements for repairability, durability and recyclability in new ecodesign requirements.

But for every cloud there is a silver lining. The commission has said implementation of their circular economy strategy could create 170,000 jobs, and bring net savings of €600 billion for businesses in the EU.

According to a report by McKinsey, the policy could deliver a net economy benefit of €1.8 trillion by 2030.

Where is all that economic benefit coming from? The commission says it can come from every stage of the process, from production to waste. The EU is making money and resources available to make this happen, and so unsurprisingly, business associations in Brussels are positioning themselves to make sure their members get a piece of the pie.

Primary materials

One might not think of traditional industrial products like steel, glass and aluminium as being environmentally friendly, but in fact these industries see the circular economy as a way to finally re-establish dominance over newer, harder-to-reuse materials like plastics.

Steel, for instance, can be melted and reused.

The sector is also able to make by-products from the steel production process. For instance, the process gas from iron ore melting has been used since the 19th century to produce energy used in other steps of the production process, or for other industrial plants.

Axel Eggert, director general of the European Steel Association (Eurofer), says the industry has been working to make sure the strategy sets definitions of “final recycling” and “by-products” in a way that will make it easier for steel to be recycled. He says this has significant profit potential for the industry.

“Steel is 100% recyclable; a ‘permanent’ material. This means that it is the key to the functioning of the circular economy,” he notes.

Production

The commission insists producers will not suffer from the new requirements for durable design. New design requirements create a market opening for new production technologies and materials, they insist. In addition, making products easier to disassemble means that it will be easier for manufacturers to retrieve and reuse them, saving money.

One beneficiary could be the electronics and appliance industries. In the next year the commission will propose rules for easier and safer dismantling, reusing and recycling of electronic displays. There are also incentives planned for producers to make appliances that are more easily disassembled.

CECED, the European appliance manufacturers association, has been trying to show its members how to take advantage of the incentives, through position papers and outreach.

Tough medicine?

Of course the most obvious business opportunity to come from the circular economy strategy is in recycling.

The strategy has set a common EU recycling target of 65% of municipal waste by 2030, and 75% of packaging waste by 2030. Today, only around 40% of the waste produced by EU households is recycled.

This will mean that waste collection and recycling is going to have to be ramped up, and that will translate into business opportunities.

Though the circular economy may sound like tough medicine, industry groups in Brussels have been quick to make sure their members can reap the full advantage of new opportunities created by the strategy.

Opinion

Don't let circular economy become a health hazard

The promotion of a circular economy must guarantee European consumers that products made from recovered or recycled materials, including plastics, do not also include recovered or recycled hazardous substances.

Stakeholder

Unleashing the sharing economy

The size of the sharing economy has doubled between 2014 and 2015, according to the European Commission. Along with it are new business models that EU legislation have yet to keep up with.

Magazine

Sharing economy: Lobbyists educate EU officials

The European Collaborative Economy Forum, a trade association, has recently started doing advocacy work, while Uber increased its spending on EU lobbying significantly.

Magazine

Car-sharing's promise of clean cities

What if all cars in a city were replaced by a new form of public transport? A think tank modelled what would happen in Lisbon.

News in Brief

  1. Air Berlin insolvency talks begin amid 'stitch-up' accusation
  2. EU calls on Serbia and Macedonia to remain calm
  3. Schulz wants US to remove nuclear weapons from Germany
  4. Ukraine and Russia to announce another ceasefire
  5. EU to investigate Monsanto-Bayer merger
  6. US will ask Nato allies to send more troops into Afghanistan
  7. Greece to be absent at event on Communism and Nazism
  8. Czechs want observer status in Eurogroup meetings

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEuropean Governments Must Take Stronger Action Against Terrorism
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  3. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  4. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  6. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  9. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  11. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  12. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides
  2. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  3. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  4. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  6. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  7. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  8. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  9. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  10. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  11. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead