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Study Shows Circular Economy Should Be ‘Key Instrument’ in Climate Strategy

Closing the loop: Cascading, functional recycling and upcycling. | Image credit: KIDV/CE Delft

This month, countries are beginning to formally ratify commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement, and Environment Ministers from across Europe met to finalize the approval of the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan. Both represent important steps forward in environmental policy, however, Dutch research institute CE Delft and Netherlands Institute for Sustainable Packaging (KIDV) suggest that the circular economy has been overlooked in climate policy as an effective means of emissions reduction.

“The European Commission has recognised the potential of the circular economy model to maintain and improve [the European Union (EU)]’s competitiveness as an economic entity and at the same time reduce its emissions. However, in the climate policies of the EU, as well as most of its member states, no reference is made to circular economy policies as a means to reduce European greenhouse gas emissions.” the organizations note, adding that current policies focus primarily on energy and transport.

“Major potential additional benefits of policies focused on materials and the circular economy are thereby generally being overlooked.”

According to The Circular Economy as a Key Instrument for Reducing Climate Change, a new study conducted by CE Delft and commissioned by KIDV, demonstrates how shifting to a more circular economy could reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with a specific focus on municipal solid waste (MSW). The researchers calculated that recycling two-thirds of MSW can reduce annual GHG emissions by 4 percent in the EU, or by 6 percent globally.

MSW only makes up 10 percent of all waste generated in the EU, suggesting much higher GHG emissions reductions if other waste streams such as industrial waste and construction and demolition waste are taken into account as well. According to a recent report from the World Economic Forum, the construction sector accounts for an estimated 25 to 40 percent of global carbon emissions and the circular economy represents a significant opportunity for the industry.

The report goes on to illustrate the possible shifts in strategies including the possible emissions reductions from landfill disposal to energy-recovery, from energy-recovery to recycling, from recycling to re-use and from re-use to reduce. In other words, the transition through the waste management hierarchy.

The study supports the fundamental idea that the decreased material use, increased recycling, resource optimization, and other measures necessary for the shift to a circular economy effectively reduce emissions.

Hannah Furlong is an Editorial Assistant for Sustainable Brands, based in Canada. She is researching the circular economy as a Master's student in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's in Environment and Business Co-op. Hannah… [Read more about Hannah Furlong]

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