The return to nature and the simplicity and circularity of its cycles is at the origin of the circular economy. This economic concept that now resonates so much began to be formulated in 1980, to make people aware of the finiteness of the elements and the importance of reusing them and extending their useful life as much as possible so as not to hurt the planet. That is why it is inspired by sustainability and nature and its cyclical model, in which there is no waste and everything has a use.
The circular economy in the EU
The circular economy is a more “human” economy that reflects not only economic, but also environmental and social aspects. And although for years it went more unnoticed, it entered the political sphere following the publication of the report ‘Inward Growth: A Circular Economy Vision for a Competitive Europe’ by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2015.
The European Union echoed this proposal and incorporated it as one of its most important pillars in the same year. 2015 was the turning point for the adoption of this model, with the publication of the strategy ‘Closing the loop: an EU action plan for the circular economy’. With this package of measures at EU level, the EU designed measures that cover the entire life cycle of a product, with actions that encourage recycling and reuse and bring environmental and economic benefits. In this action plan it prioritised it action in several priority areas: plastics, food waste, critical raw materials, construction and demolition, biomass and bio-based products, and innovation, investment, and other horizontal measures.
The most recent measures
Following this action plan, the European Union continued to explore how to implement its transition to a circular economy with the political commitment of its Member States, and in 2018 adopted further far-reaching measures:
· The EU Strategy for Plastics in the Circular Economy at the European level.
· The Communication on options for addressing the interface between chemicals, products, and waste legislation.
· A Monitoring Framework on progress towards a circular economy at the EU and national level.
· A Report on Critical Raw Materials and the circular economy.
These measures were accompanied by a scoreboard to monitor progress toward the circular economy.
The New Action Plan
And finally, in 2020 the European Commission adopted the ‘New Action Plan for the Circular Economy’, aligned with the objectives of the European Green Pact, to achieve a climate-neutral circular economy and finally decouple economic growth from resource use.
The new plan identifies key value chains with sustainability challenges (electronics and ICT, batteries and vehicles, packaging, plastics, textiles, construction and buildings, and food, water, and nutrients).
This new regenerative growth initiative presents several measures aimed at making sustainable products the norm in the EU; empowering consumers; focusing on the most resource-intensive sectors where the potential for circularity is high; and ensuring less waste to reduce the consumption footprint.
These measures are intended to materialise in the form of:
· A more stringent waste policy in support of waste prevention and circularity.
· Strengthening circularity in a toxics-free environment.
· The creation of an efficient EU secondary raw materials market.
· Focusing on EU waste exports.
What seems clear is that this concept is here to stay, and all that remains is for political agendas to incorporate it 100% into their programmes.