In recent years, Europe, but also the whole world, is facing unprecedented overconsumption and overexploitation. Indeed, the amount of renewable and non-renewable natural resources extracted each year in the world is constantly increasing. It now stands at 93 billion per year, which means that it has more than tripled in fifty years. Soil, forests, oceans with fishing, fossil fuels and even drinking water are all affected by this overexploitation. In addition to contributing to the depletion of these precious resources, which do not have time to renew themselves, overexploitation also contributes significantly to the erosion of biodiversity.
Added to this is the risk of an economic recession for Europe, which is intensifying, as stated by the European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, at the beginning of September.
In response to this alarming situation, the European Commission has put in place a circular economy action plan, which was unveiled in March 2020. This economic measure aims to achieve a more environmentally friendly, competitive and climate neutral Europe by 2050.
So how does Europe plan to make this circular economy plan work by 2050 and what are the key issues? Let’s find out together in this article.
The circular economy and its challenges
First of all, let’s define what the circular economy is in order to better understand the issues.
The circular economy is an economic system that consists of producing goods and services in a sustainable way by promoting the extension of the useful life of products, the reuse and recycling of components. It thus helps to limit over-consumption, waste of resources and waste production.
Our current economic system is based on the linear model of “extract, manufacture, consume, dispose”. But this is no longer sustainable. One of the key indicators of this is the ‘day of overshoot’. This, calculated by the American NGO Global Footprint Network, marks the date from which, each year, humanity has supposedly exhausted all the resources that the Earth is capable of producing and renewing in one year. What is alarming is that every year this date comes earlier and earlier: in 1970 it was on 23 December and today in 2022 it is on 28 July.
It is obvious that the major cause of the premature intervention of this day of overshoot lies in human activities. When we know that food production is responsible for 70% of the loss of terrestrial biodiversity and 50% of the loss of freshwater ecosystems, or that agriculture is responsible for 80% of global deforestation and accounts for 70% of freshwater use, we can conclude that by 2050 we will need the equivalent of 3 planets to meet the needs of humanity. Moreover, climate change is also a consequence of human activities: the greenhouse gas emissions that cause it are the direct result of the combustion of fossil fuels, agricultural breeding or waste treatment.
But the challenges of the circular economy are not only ecological; we must not forget that global economic growth is closely dependent on the consumption of material resources. Indeed, to meet the demand for goods and services of a country’s economic agents, it is necessary to extract natural resources, both renewable (energy materials, water, biomass, fisheries resources) and non-renewable (mineral resources, ores, fossil fuels). As a result, the depletion of natural resources and its impacts invite us to accelerate Europe’s economic transition towards a so-called “green” economy, but above all a circular one.
Europe’s action plan to achieve this new economic model by 2050
Faced with climate change and environmental degradation, Europe has decided to put in place concrete measures. The European Commission launched in March 2022 a first package of measures to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. This is part of the “Green Pact“, a roadmap established in 2019 with the main objective of putting the EU on the path to ecological and energy transition.
Europe’s plan for the circular economy is divided into 3 action areas which are production, consumption and waste management.
What are the 7 key principles of the circular economy on which progress needs to be made?
1. Production :
sustainable supply: establish a mode of resource extraction aimed at limiting exploitation waste as well as the impact on the environment (exploitation of energy, mineral, agricultural and forestry materials) but also social.
eco-design: optimising or defining production methods for a product or service that limit its environmental impact throughout its life cycle.
Industrial and territorial economy: to carry out actions on a territory in order to save its resources or improve its productivity.
Functional (or sustainable) economy: favouring use over possession by replacing the sale of a material good with the sale of an associated service.
2. Consumption :
Responsible consumption: adopting this mode of consumption whereby the buyer takes into account the environmental impacts of his products or services before buying them. It is also a question of fighting obsolescence, whether it is programmed or due to fashion, in order to lead to rational consumption.
Extending the life of a product: putting in place means of extending the life of a product, whether through repair, second-hand sales, donations or even reuse through repair.
3. Waste management :
- recovery and recycling: optimising the treatment of waste so that it can be reintroduced into the production cycle from which it came in order to manufacture new products.
These different measures in terms of circularity and sustainability particularly concern seven key sectors in Europe that need to be transformed: plastics, textiles, electronics, food, packaging, automotive and the construction sector. For each of these sectors, economic actors and consumers play a very important role in complying with the measures that have been established as follows:
- Plastics : use only plastics that can be recycled and phase out the use of microplastics. Ultimately, aim for 100% recycled plastics by 2025.
- Textiles : ensure that textiles last longer by 2030, are recyclable as much as possible and are free of hazardous substances.
- Electronic and electrical equipment : promote the extension of the life of products by encouraging reuse and reparability.
- Food : halve food and water waste by 2030, both during production and distribution and in households.
- Packaging : put in place new rules to ensure that all packaging on the EU market is reusable or recyclable by 2030.
- Vehicles and batteries : Reduce the carbon impact of vehicle battery production and ensure that the materials used respect human rights and environmental standards.
- Construction and buildings : increase the lifespan of buildings, set targets to reduce the carbon footprint of materials used and set minimum energy and resource efficiency requirements.
Europe’s circular economy plan therefore brings together ecological, social and economic issues. These challenges are multiple and require synergy between the different commitments of this new economic model. Its viability also depends on raising awareness among citizens (economic actors and consumers) of the challenges of environmental protection, the fight against global warming, food waste and waste recycling. This joint effort could, by 2050, lead to the achievement of the key objectives of the circular economy plan, but also present clear advantages for businesses in terms of competitiveness.
Finally, the circular economy allows for the creation of sustainable and non relocatable jobs.
Thus, by adapting our daily lives to this new circular model, everyone has everything to gain !
Chargée de marketing digital chez Altaroad et étant intéressée par la digitalisation de l’industrie de la construction, je m’intéresse particulièrement aux nouveaux outils mis en place. Je publierai régulièrement des articles liés aux enjeux du secteur du BTP, les problématiques, les actualités, etc.