Realising the circular economy is a must. With a global middle class population expected to reach 4.9 billion people by 2030, nearly three times more than in 2009, the world cannot continue with the take-makedispose pattern of the linear economy which exceeds the physical limits of the planet. The circular economy is the only model that guarantees a sustainable sourcing of raw materials to satisfy economic and societal needs while decoupling their production and use from environmental externalities.
Recyclers play a pivotal role in the circular economy. By turning waste into new raw materials, recycling is the link which reintroduces resources into the production chains. It also comes with major economic and environmental benefits:
- Recycling offers local job opportunities, which cannot be outsourced, as recycling usually takes place close to the source of collection.
- Recycling saves massive amounts of CO2 emissions and is hence a key industrial partner to achieve the objectives set by the Paris Agreement to combat climate change. In its impact assessment of the Circular Economy Package, the European Commission expects 477 tonnes of CO2 to be saved between 2015 and 2035 should the proposed recycling targets for municipal waste alone be met.
- Raw materials from recycling provide a sustainable source of domestic resources for European and the world manufacturing industries, hence contributing to improve Europe’s raw materials trade balance.
Paradoxically, it is at the time when recycling is the most needed to realise the circular economy that recyclers face conditions adversely affecting their economic viability. This situation, mostly caused by plummeting oil and virgin materials prices and regulatory obstacles, shows the limits of the current framework. It must be seized as an opportunity by policy-makers to make legislation smarter by implementing reality-driven solutions that boost recycling. In practice, this means:
- Thinking circular at design stage
- Implementing pull measures to boost markets for raw materials from recycling and reward the environmental benefits of urban mining
- Making the internal market for recycling become a reality
- Measuring recycling targets alike throughout the EU.