Tuesday

23rd Jul 2019

Interview

'Paradigm shift' needed for circular economy

  • Pietikainen says the circular economy requires rules (Photo: European Parliament)

Sirpa Pietikainen is going to buy a new smartphone soon because the applications on it don't function properly and it needs rebooting several times a day.

But the centre-right MEP from Finland has mixed feelings about the purchase.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

“I'm not going to buy a new phone because I want new glass; or because I want new aluminium; or because I'm craving for acrylic. I don't want new aluminium. I want to have a faster, better functioning telephone”, said Pietikainen in an interview with EUobserver.

“Because they need to sell new phones, the lifetime is shorter every year. My life quality is not better now that I'm buying a new mobile phone every third year”, she added.

Pietikainen's criticism of the phone industry's “linear” business model extends to the entire economy.

It is time to move towards a 'circular economy', she said.

Circular economy refers to a system in which materials are maximally reused, repaired, and recycled, and waste is reduced to a minimum.

On Wednesday (17 June), the European Parliament's environment committee adopted her report - "Resource efficiency: moving towards a circular economy".

'Strong signal'

The text calls on the European Commission to present by the end of the year an “ambitious proposal” on circular economy, and to propose a binding target to make the use of resources more efficient by 30 percent in 2030, compared to 2014.

The report is non-binding, but praised nonetheless by environmental NGOs as sending a “strong signal” to the commission, which indicated shortly after taking office it would scrap a legislative proposal on recycling and waste.

Will the commission, which has promised to publish its circular economy strategy before the end of the year, deliver?

It depends on who the commission listens to? Will it listen to businesses that think they will benefit from the circular economy, or to “those unprofitable coal mines”, who argue that new legislation is “destroying my business and the European economy”, said Pietikainen.

“Businesses need to change sooner or later. The longer you wait, the harder it is.”

The current way resources are being used in the economy is unsustainable, Pietikainen wrote in her report.

Paradigm shift

What is needed, is “a true paradigm shift like with Copernicus or Galileo Galilei”, said Pietikainen, referring to Polish and Italian astronomers whose ideas changed how the world is viewed.

“We are not in a neutral regulatory environment … Our regulation is always a reflection of our world view. If our world view has been 'abundant, without limits', our regulation is accordingly. It disincentivises these kind of resource-efficient ways”, she noted.

To counter that, the EU should “abolish all environmentally harmful subsidies” and make sure that EU funding is provided to the most 'resource efficient' projects.

Citizens also have a role to play.

We should eat less meat, buy more locally produced food and reduce food waste. And we should rethink if we really want to own a car.

“We need to change the pattern of ownership”, said Pietikainen, adding that the idea of owning things is “very territorial”.

“It's very deep-rooted in us. My phone is my phone, it's not a leased phone, no one can take it away from me. No matter that I already have three phones - as I do at home - that I don't use because they are all outdated.”

She adds that consumers can only improve their behaviour if the regulatory, legal and commercial environment allows them to.

“Voluntary actions and consumer awareness is important, but it’s not enough if you don't have good products to choose from.”

A case in point is the two 330ml plastic bottles of sparkling water Pietikainen grabbed just after leaving the parliament's committee room.

“I need to drink something”, she said, adding she would rather the parliament installed a water dispenser.

“Your life is not better if you can use every day 10 plastic bottles with water and throw them away. … We have to be aware why we make the wrong choices.”

Being green in the EPP

Pietikainen, who was environment minister in Finland in the 1990s, is not a typical member of the centre-right EPP group, the largest in the European Parliament.

One EP source called her “the greenest member of the EPP”.

“I wouldn't take the credit of being the most green”, she said, adding the 218-strong group has “a number of us who think very much in these lines”.

“I hope it’s gradually changing,” she says of those who have yet to be convinced.

Opinion

Europe’s Kodak moment and the circular economy

If I were a business leader, I would be on high alert to ensure my company not become the cassette tape, correction fluid, or photographic film manufacturer of our time.

News in Brief

  1. Johnson is next British prime minister
  2. Johnson set to be announced British PM on Tuesday
  3. UK-based owners of .eu domains could keep name
  4. Weyand: EU would respond to US tariffs on cars
  5. UK foreign office minister quits ahead of Johnson as PM
  6. AKK to boost Bundeswehr budget to Nato target
  7. Police arrest 25 after Polish LGBT-march attack
  8. Ukrainian president's party tops parliament election

Greens commit to air quality 'super commissioner'

Following an investigation into the Dieselgate scandal, the European Parliament recommended a single commissioner should be responsible for both air quality and setting industrial standards. But only the Greens want to commit to carry out that advice.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Macron: 14 EU states agree on a migration 'mechanism'
  2. As Johnson set to become PM, ministers pledge to resign
  3. Poland's PiS prepares 'failsafe' for October election
  4. Abortion Wars
  5. EU goes on holiday as new UK PM arrives This WEEK
  6. Survey: Half of EU staff 'don't know' ethics rules
  7. Von der Leyen signals soft touch on migrants, rule of law
  8. Timmermans: von der Leyen will be tough on rule of law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us