CIRCULAR ECONOMY

By Carlo Caloisi

Life on Earth is about 4.5 billion years old and will still exist for a long time until, in another five, the Sun will extinguish all hydrogen doubling its volume, turning into a red giant and swallowing it.

Waiting for the ineluctable, the ecosystem that characterizes it has always been organized so that the waste of a species are the nourishment of another.

Man, on the other hand, practically since his advent, takes the resources available on the planet to produce others that he then throws away once used for the most disparate reasons.

This mechanism, always increasing over time and particularly intensified in the last 150 years, is reducing the planet to a sort of  landfill.

It was therefore necessary to rethink a social and economic model aimed at optimizing resources and products derived from a perspective aimed at their regeneration in other forms in order to then be reintroduced into the market. The need then for a transition from a linear economy (the current and strongly prevailing) to a circular economy, that is, to a cyclical model where discarded products (waste) are rethought and redesigned into completely new ones.

The circular economy, theorized first by K. Boulding in 1966 and then by W. Stahel and G. Reday in a report submitted to the European Commission in 1976 and deepened later, today is considered a priority for the preservation of the planet and is, by definition: ” … a model of production and consumption that involves sharing, borrowing, reusing, repairing, reconditioning and recycling of existing materials and products for as long as possible. This extends the life cycle of products, helping to minimize waste.”

This model is so highly regarded that it has been made in the European Union as one of the constituent cornerstones of the European Green Deal through the adoption of the new action plan for the circular economy presented by the European Commission on March 11, 2020.

This plan aims to accelerate the transition to a circular and regenerative economy with particular attention to:

  • Effective circularity of production processes;
  • Design of sustainable products;
  • Industrial sectors where resources with a high environmental impact are produced (e.g. construction industry, food, electronics, batteries, transport, plastics, textiles).

Among the 35 actions put in place for the pursuit of the objective, for which an appropriate timetable has been drawn up, we mention, among others

  • increase in the market for secondary raw materials by means of the inclusion of a minimum percentage contained in packaging, batteries, vehicles and building materials;
  • support for research and technological innovation in all sectors of the economy;
  • definition of requirements to prevent an environmentally harmful product from being introduced into the EU market;
  • introduction of an electronic product passport with information on composition, repair, etc..;
  • proposal for harmonization of waste collection within the EU;
  • revision of rules for waste shipment;
  • definition of a monitoring system for the circular economy;
  • increase in jobs in the sector (700,000 by 2030).

In the Italian context, the state of the circular economy, compared with that of the main economies of the European Union (Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland), is substantially positive. According to the latest report on the state of the circular economy in Italy – year 2021 – released by CEN (Circular Economic Network), adding up the performance of the main aspects (production, consumption, circular waste management, repair and reuse, investment, employment in recycling activity) and assigning a rating for each sector, we obtain a performance index that puts it in first place, followed by France and Germany.

Among the parameters examined – data from 2019 – the recycling of municipal waste is 46.9%, in line with the European average, while that of all waste is 68%, well above the European average (57%), The rate of circular use of matter is at 19.3%, higher than the EU27 average (11.9%), lower than France alone (20.1%), but higher than Germany (12.2%), while we are last in terms of patents filed.

Despite the numerous examples and successes in the application of this economic approach, we are currently in a phase of full transition, so much so that, despite the advantages, not only environmental, that we have examined, the path presents significant obstacles, particularly for worldwide harmonization.

Among the critical points, the different approach that requires a social, cultural and structural change such as this one certainly emerges, which, among other aspects, tends to have a considerable impact on companies that must consider, for their own protection, the economic convenience of the business that the new method requires.

The players in the field, in fact, could resist such a change because of the low profitability that this change would entail since technological innovations are not yet consolidated to support an analysis aimed at verifying the potential benefits with some certainty. Not to mention the legal, regulatory, incentive and funding aspects.

Carlo Caloisi

SOURCES AND IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS

  1. Circular Economy – definition, importance and benefits: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/economy/20151201STO05603/circular-economy-definition-importance-and-benefits
  2. Circular economy – origins: https://www.circular.academy/circular-economy-some-definitions-2/#:~:text=In%201966%2C%20US%20economist%20Kenneth,of%20the%20future%20requires%20economic
  3. RE-USE IS THE “KEY” TO THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/ecoap/about-eco-innovation/experts-interviews/reuse-is-the-key-to-the-circular-economy_it
  4. European Green Deal : https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en
  5. Action Plan for the Circular Economy (European Commission): https://ec.europa.eu/environment/strategy/circular-economy-action-plan_en
  6. European commission communication of the action plan (text, March 11, 2020): https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1583933814386&uri=COM:2020:98:FIN
  7. Ministry of Ecological Transition – National Strategy for the Circular Economy (September 2021): https://www.mite.gov.it/sites/default/files/archivio/allegati/economia_circolare/SEC_30092021_1.pdf
  8. Third report on the circular economy in Italy, year 2021 (complete): https://circulareconomy.europa.eu/platform/en/knowledge/circular-economy-report-2021-italy-focus-role-circular-economy-transition-climate-neutrality
  9. Third report on the circular economy in Italy, year 2021 (summary): https://circulareconomynetwork.it/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Synthesis_The-third-circular-economy-report.pdf
  10. Secondary raw materials – definition : https://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/theme-new-boost-for-jobs-growth-and-investment/file-strategy-for-secondary-raw-materials#:~:text=’Secondary%20raw%20materials’%20are%20recycled,or%20alongside%20virgin%20raw%20materials.
  11. Circular economy examples around the world and case study: https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/topics/circular-economy-introduction/examples

12. Obstacles to overcome for the circular economy: https://tcocertified.com/it/news/overcoming-the-obstacles-for-circularity/