This article introduces the concept of circular economy (CE) in terms of EU policy. Recently, the Commission introduced a series of measures in which countries are expected to implement CE into their national strategies. A selection of European countries were chosen based on their geographical and socio-economic differences, and their current CE strategies were analyzed.
Authors: David Huisman Dellago & Susanna Vanhamäki
Ever since the industrial revolution, society has been pushing the use of natural resources exponentially. This is leading to major environmental issues linked to waste generation and greenhouse gases emissions from unsustainable business practices. Traditional economic models follow a linear pattern in which the production process works solely on new raw materials, generating substantial amounts of waste (Geissdoerfer, et al., 2017).
CE is an economic model which operates in a regenerative way, where used resources are reintroduced into the production process as by-products (minimizing waste). Within CE, two main pathways can be distinguished: the technical and biological pathways. The technical cycle involves product recycling and reuse, whilst the biological cycle observes the conversion of natural resources (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017).
In European law, CE plays an important role in the economic strategy of the EU. In 2015, the Commission launched a set of directives addressing regenerative and sustainable practices within the member countries (European Commission, 2015). The CE package is an ambitious plan aiming at establishing a CE framework.
This article presents the results of a qualitative analysis of national CE strategies in selected EU countries. The countries were selected based on geographical and socio-economical differences, as well as the accessibility to their policy data. Part of the data was gathered in the BIOREGIO project (2017) in autumn 2017, whilst the other selected countries’ information is based on desk research.
The strategies analyzed belong to the nations of: Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands. The way CE is implemented (CE focus) is studied, as well as the nature of their policies.
The following results display the role of CE in national policy strategies within a variety of EU member nations. The strategies reflect the countries’ pathways toward the European 2015 CE Package goals for the upcoming years, delivering an interesting set of data.
The effect of the EU transnational policies through the CE directive launched in 2015, is reflected throughout the analyzed countries. Only one of the studied countries lack CE in its national strategy. In Greece’s current strategy, a CE focus is absent as well as no mention to circularity as the program is based solely on waste reduction (Greek National Plan for Waste Management, 2015-2020). However, a change is expected in the upcoming year.
CE policies are presented from different perspectives within the EU countries, two general approaches can be distinguished. On the one hand, there are multidisciplinary strategies which address several pathways within CE, in many cases including bio-based CE. These strategies are known as roadmaps and can be observed in Finland and the Netherlands. The Finnish national policy addressed CE holistically and a regenerative business model, in order to achieve sustainable practices by 2025 (The Finnish Roadmap to a Circular Economy, 2016-2025). The Netherlands is undergoing an ambition plan in order to become a totally circular country by 2050. The plan focuses on closing the loop and becoming self-sufficient, by enhancing sustainable technologies (Government of the Netherlands, 2016).
Portugal is implementing a green growth program (Government of Portugal, 2013) where CE is linked to the green industry, aiming at enhancing the country’s sustainability. Similarly, but focused on the bioeconomy, Germany and Sweden opt for the CE implementation in the agricultural and biotechnological production processes. This way, they expect to achieve self-sufficiency, increased competitiveness and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (Federal Ministry of Education and Research, 2013; Government of Sweden, 2012; The Waste Management Program of the Slovak Republic , 2016-2020).
On the other hand, a waste management approach is shown where CE is explicitly mentioned. This is seen in the Spanish, Slovakian, French and Romanian strategies. The countries are utilizing waste reduction as a direct tool to improve the circularity of their respective economies. According to their policies, through recycling and e.g. biowaste conversion, a regenerative economy can be obtained (Waste Management State Plan PEMAR, 2016-2020; Law relative to Energy Transition for Green Growth, 2015-2030; Romanian National Waste Management Strategy, 2014-2020).
CE in National Strategies from selected EU countries (Table 1), shows the name of the analyzed policy and the CE focus. The CE focus corresponds to the way regenerative economy is intended to be applied. Roadmaps are integrative, multidisciplinary approaches as they affect many different industries. Furthermore, bioeconomy and waste management focus on that specific industry. Finally, one country have no national strategy related to CE at the moment.
Table 1. CE in National Strategies from selected EU countries
The CE package from the European Union is influencing the economic models from its member countries. The ambitious directive was established in 2015 and is pushing countries to adopt sustainable practices aiming at minimizing waste and enhance the European industry (European Commission, 2015).
A series of EU countries based on their socio-economical and geographical differences were analyzed. The form in which CE is reflected was analyzed based on the national policies. The main findings conclude that:
- Finland and the Netherlands are implementing an integrative roadmap in order to achieve a full CE model before a certain year. Through this way, CE is implemented in many different industries and the economy of the country as a whole.
- Germany, Sweden and Portugal aim their programs at a specific industry. CE is directed at the green and bioeconomic sectors, meaning agriculture and biotechnology are prioritized.
- Spain, Slovakia, France and Romania integrate CE aspects to their national strategies through waste management. Waste reduction and conversion is an essential part of CE, however, it is not the only potential way to apply the circular model.
- Greece, does not currently have a national strategy related to CE implemented. The current programs focus on waste management but CE is not mentioned as a policy goal. Nonetheless, due to new EU regulations, a future strategy is envisioned and being prepared in order to enhance CE.
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About the authors
David Huisman Dellago is an exchange student from Avans University of Applied Sciences in Breda (The Netherlands). He is developing his bachelor thesis working as an intern in Lahti University of Applied Sciences.
Susanna Vanhamäki works as a RDI Specialist at Lahti University of Applied Sciences.
Illustration: https://pixabay.com/en/garbage-can-garbage-bucket-green-1111449/ (CC0)
Reference to this publication
Huisman Dellago, D. & Vanhamäki, S. 2018. Circular economy in selected EU National strategies. LAMK Pro. [Electronic magazine]. [Cited and date of citation]. Available at: http://www.lamkpub.fi/2018/05/24/circular-economy-in-selected-eu-national-strategies/