Committee on Environment, Public
Health and Food Safety II
The linear ”Take, Make, Dispose” economic model is not sustainable for the planet in the long term. How can the European Union encourage and support the transition to a circular economy so as to reduce material waste?
Chairpersons : Stella Coti (FR) and Sacha Magnani (FR)
“The linear take-make-dispose system, which depletes natural resources and generates waste, is deeply flawed and can be productively replaced by a restorative model in which waste does not exist as such but is only food for the next cycle.”
Ellen MacArthur, Founder, Ellen MacArthur Foundation1
The dominant economic model in place since the Industrial Revolution is based on a linear vision: “Take, Make, Dispose”, with regard to goods produced. This system is under criticism for the amount of waste produced, for its consequences on the natural resources used and the subsequent impact on the environment. According to European Commission’s 2015 research, each year the EU produced 600 million tonnes of waste that is composed of materials which could be recycled or re-used.2 High level of consumption of natural resources and its consequences on environment have been linked by some studies to the fast increasing of the climate change. This situation is at the core of the idea of circular economy.
A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy, in which resources are to be used for as long as possible, the maximum value should be extracted from them, and then, at the end of the service life, they ought to be used for the creation of new products and materials.3 The objective is to guarantee a better and more sustainable use of waste materials and natural resources in the economic system, so as to reduce the human impact on the environment.
Nowadays, according to an Ellen MacArthur Foundation report, the linear economy has to deal with certain disadvantages and limits for its practices: a limited level of natural resources and materials, a high level of waste in the production chain, large demand for energy, and the “end-of-life” system, in which products are considered to be waste as soon as they do not work anymore or when they are considered as useful.4
All sectors of the economy are touched by these practices, even if some companies currently try to change their ways of production. The aforementioned report emphasizes that in 2010, 2.7 billion tonnes of waste were generated in Europe and less than 40% was reused, recycled, or composted and digested.5 Globally, as Harald Friedl, CEO of Circle Economy points out, “over 90% of the raw materials used globally are not cycled back into the economy, putting a massive strain on the planet’s natural resources.”6
According to the United Nations statistics, the world population has reached 7.3 billion in 2015, which is 2 billion more than in 1990, and should expand to 9.7 billion in 2050.7 It is easy to predict that the exponential increase of the population does not give good perspectives if the world continues to run on a linear economy and does nothing to counter the current state of affairs. Indeed, the increase in population implies a growth in production, use of more materials and resources and, finally, more waste.
This is why an alternative solution is being developed in certain high-income countries: the circular economy. As defined by the French ministry on the environmental transition, “a circular economy is an economic system in which the objective is to produce goods and services in a sustainable way, limiting the use of natural resources (raw material, water, energy) as well as the production of waste.”8
The circular economy is based on the 3R approach: “Reduce, Reuse & Recycle”. Following the example of natural ecosystems, the objective is to maximize the use and employment of all resources in the economic cycle, and to avoid all unnecessary waste. As described by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the circular economy is based on three main principles9 :
- Design out waste and pollution,
- Keep products and materials in use,
- Regenerate natural systems
The value of a circular system on fast-moving consumer goods is estimated to be nearly $700 billion annually in savings. If the circular economy is well and seriously implemented by everyone, CO2 emissions could be reduced by 48% in 2030 and even 83% by 2050%.10
Legislative work on promoting the circular economy principles has been commenced both on the EU and Member States level. In January 2018, the European Commission has adopted a new package of relevant directives and strategies11. In France, the circular economy has been included in the legislation concerning the environmental transition law, as one of the main vectors of this transition.
While climatosceptism is still present in societies, an ever growing number of people and institutions perceive the circular economy to be the way forward. Its supporters are becoming more visible in the civil, economic and political spheres. To sum up, the idea of circular economy seems to be gaining momentum as an economically reasonable, environmentally friendly and healthy alternative to the classic linear system.
In a circular economy, manufacturers design products to be reusable. For example, electrical devices are designed in such a way that they are easier to repair. Products and raw materials are also reused as much as possible, for example by recycling plastic into pellets for making new plastic products.
In a Linear economy, raw materials are used to make a product, and after its use any waste is thrown away.
Environmental sustainability is achieved when the rates of renewable resource harvest, pollution creation, and non-renewable resource depletion are at a level that can be continued indefinitely.
Economic sustainability is the ability to support a defined level of economic production indefinitely.
Social sustainability is the ability of a social system, such as that of a country, to function at a defined level of social wellbeing indefinitely.
Raw materials are commodities, parts or substances that are assembled or processed to form a final product.
1. The Circular Economy Is In Fashion, The Possibility Project, February 2, 2018, https://thepossibilityproject.com.au/blogs/news/the-circular-economy-is-in-fashion
2. Circular Economy Package: Questions & Answers, European Commission, December 2, 2015, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-15-6204_en.htm
3. WRAP and the circular economy, Waste and Resources Action Programme, http://www.wrap.org.uk/about-us/about/wrap-and-circular-economy
4. Towards The Circular Economy, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2013, https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/Ellen-MacArthur-Foundation-Towards-theCircular-Economy-vol.1.pdf
6. Current linear economy is failing people and the planet, Infrastructure News, January 24, 2018, http://www.infrastructurene.ws/2018/01/24/current-linear-economy-is-failing-people-and-the-planet-report/
7. Population, United Nations, 2015, http://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/population/
8. L’économie circulaire, Ministère de la Transition écologique et solidaire, December 16, 2016, https://www.ecologique-solidaire.gouv.fr/leconomie-circulaire
9. Circular Economy Overview, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/overview/concept
11. Circular Economy, European Commission, February 15, 2018, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circulareconomy/index_en.htm