Waste as a business opportunity
In 2015, the European Commission put forward an Action Plan for the Circular Economy with an aim to “to help European businesses and consumers to make the transition to a stronger and more circular economy where resources are used in a more sustainable way.” In a circular economy the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible, waste and resource use are minimised, and when products reach the end of their life, they are used again.
Secondary raw materials
One of the key areas in the action plan lies in the use of secondary raw materials, that is, materials that have been recycled from waste and placed on the market to be used in new products. Re-injecting these materials into the beginning of the product lifecycle can reduce costs of production and our impact on the environment. Not only is this good for the planet, it is also good for business. It will open up new areas of business, encourage new product development, promote innovation and stimulate economic growth. It will save cost for industries by preserving resources, which are getting increasingly scarce or subject to mounting environmental pressure or unstable prices. Also, it will unlock opportunities for a new generation of European businesses and challenge them to create innovative, more resource-efficient ways to provide products and services to customers. And finally, it will create new jobs, boosting social integration and cohesion.
However, secondary raw materials still make up only a small proportion of materials used in the EU. There is a number of measures which would facilitate the use of secondary raw materials in the economy, such as:
• facilitating legal transport of waste between EU countries while taking further measures to bring down the number of illegal shipments
• developing quality standards for secondary raw materials where needed, especially for plastics
• developing analysis and proposals on the interface between chemicals, products and waste legislation, including on how to improve the tracking of chemicals of concern in products
• analysing the main obstacles to the establishment and proper functioning of EU-wide secondary material markets
• encouraging industrial symbiosis, where the waste or by-products of one industry become the raw materials or energy for another
For example, nutrients from organic waste, such as food waste, wastewater and manure, can be returned to the soil as organic fertilisers, reducing the need for mineral-based fertilisers, but the circulation of these fertilisers is hampered by divergent rules and quality standards across EU countries.
Increasing the market uptake of secondary raw materials is a key objective of the Circular Economy package to transform the EU economy to a more circular one. A more efficient functioning of waste markets within EU would facilitate for these sectors to achieve their full potential and allow for a transition to resource-efficient economy. Waste would be subjected to better sorting techniques, optimised processes and more effective treatment, recycling and recovery. A European Commission study published in 2011 showed that full implementation of EU waste legislation would save €72 billion a year, increase the annual turnover of the EU waste management and recycling sector by €42 billion and create over 400,000 jobs by 2020, showing once more that waste should be treated as a resource and a business opportunity.
Author: Ivan Petarčić (RRiF-plus d.o.o.)