The circular economy is coming soon to Europe. Here’s how

Nov 13, 2023 | News

You may be vaguely familiar with the idea of a circular economic system, but are unsure how it would work? Three new policies are set to bring this idea closer to home. From laws on sustainable packaging, to proposals around textiles that are being rolled out in Europe

The circular economy. Although the term has been discussed in sustainability circles for over a decade and covered in mainstream media, it is still debatable whether or not it has penetrated public consciousness. The principles behind it have slowly become ingrained in society. In place of fast fashion, for instance, people are increasingly using secondhand platforms such as Vinted – the business

Legislation is being developed to lay the groundwork for a widespread adoption of the circular economy. The European Union is gradually introducing new laws, from directives on reducing plastic waste and the right of customers to repair products they purchase, to proposals for recycling textiles and reducing electronic waste.

Entrepreneurs also have a role to play. “The startup eco-system is a very significant piece of this puzzle,” said Filipa Moita. She is the marketing manager at Landbell Group which administers the Green Alley Award. The award recognizes European startups that have pioneered circular solutions.

She continues, “Startups represent the brave innovators that come up with new ideas and new ways to do things.” “They influence policymakers through demonstrating how to implement a solution. They also educate consumers, and that is very important. “If consumers don’t support the circular economy, then it won’t be possible.”

Here are three policies that will usher in the circular future and the startups who are working behind the scenes to bring us closer.

By 2028, fashion firms will have to recycle more textile waste. Image: Cottonbro Studio

1. Textiles

The European Commission has proposed 16 pieces of legislation to make fashion circular. They want these plans in place by the year 2028. Fashion companies will have to collect a portion of their textile waste or pay a fee for local authorities to collect waste. Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation will ensure that products are circular by 2030. This means they are durable, reliable and reusable. They are also repairable and upgradeable. There are also plans to crack down on greenwashing and tackle the unintentional releases of microplastics.

Gema Terol, in Barcelona, is the head of marketing and communication for BCome. This platform helps fashion brands to become more transparent. BCome was one of the 2023 finalists for the Green Alley Award. Terol says that “achieving complete recycling of textile wastes is extremely difficult.” “But the linear model of ‘take, manufacture, dispose’ is no longer sustainable.”

We’d like to see more emphasis in the future on measures that directly deal with overproduction

She is encouraged by the proposed legislation, but says that more attention must be paid to the overproduction and that fashion brands themselves need to go further. In the future, we would like to see more emphasis on measures that directly tackle overproduction. This could include setting production limits, for example .”

Elena Ferrero is the CEO of Atelier Riforma in Italy, which was a finalist for the 2023 award. She has developed an artificial intelligence-based tool to catalogue textile waste, and connect it with a digital marketplace where it can be reused. Ferrero also agrees with the overproduction issue, and adds that exploitation, planned obsolescence, and littering, are other key issues.

She says that the circular economy is the solution to all of these problems.

All packaging must be recyclable by 1 January 2030. Image: Cristiano Pinto

2. Packaging

Packaging is a major user of virgin materials, and a growing waste source. The EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive will address this issue by ensuring that all packaging has the potential to recycle in a way which retains high-quality secondary raw materials.

There are also plans to maximize reuse – for example, food takeaway packaging will need to reach a 40% reusability goal by 2040 – and to reduce the size of packaging units, both in terms of volume and weight. Locally, deposit return schemes have been successful in Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands. Scotland, Portugal, and other European countries plan to introduce their own schemes by 2025.

RePack creates e-commerce envelopes which can be used over and over again. Image: RePack

Jonne Hellgren is the CEO of RePack, a Finnish startup that makes reusable ecommerce packaging. She says the lobbying by the single-use industry has been one of the biggest challenges in promoting reuse. “The initial targets for ecommerce were that 20% of packaging would have to be reusable by 2020 and 80% by 2030. This has now been reduced to 10 and 50 percent respectively. The PPWD legislation is the most lobbied in Europe, if it’s not the entire world.”

He says that legislation has played an important role in encouraging reuse, especially in France, which gives him a lot of hope for the future. “This year, brands with sales of EUR50m [PS43.7m] will have to use reusable packing for 5% their online deliveries. The threshold for reusing packaging will be reduced to EUR20m [PS17.5m] by 2020. The French legislation played a major role in the creation of a reuse industry and market. Reusable packaging will not become widespread in Europe without legislation or tax benefits. You need it to create scale and an actual industry. Not just companies running off grants and goodwill.”

Apply for the Green Alley Award. Submit your entry and be crowned as the most innovative European startup in tackling waste. Deadline: 20 Nov 2023 Apply Now

3. Batteries

A new law to ensure batteries are collected, reused and recycled in Europe

Simby is a Portuguese marketplace for used electronic and electrical equipment. It was selected as a finalist in the Green Alley Award 2023. Jose Carlos Carvalho is its co-founder. He calls the legislation “a significant step towards more sustainable batteries practices”, but adds “achieving these goals may pose challenges in terms technology, infrastructure, and market dynamics.” It will be important to strike the right balance between ambitions and feasibility.

Carvalho believes that startups like Simby can play a major role in promoting sustainable eWaste practices. “We aim to create an ecosystem that can foster public awareness and engagement in the eWaste management, contributing towards a cleaner, healthier, and more resource-efficient tomorrow.”

Main image: miniseries

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