During the last years, the concept of Circular Economy has been a vogue. Administrations, companies and especially environmental experts present it as the solution to some of the biggest current problems of humanity. However, many people ignore that it can also be a way for a new model of sustainable, inclusive and intelligent growth in accordance with the Europe 2020 Strategy. This is the reason of this interview with Dolors Nunez, expert in Circular Economy.
Recently the concept of circular economy has become very popular, but most people automatically think about recycling. What does this concept entail? And what’s the difference with recycling?
The concept of Circular Economy is very broad and ranges from more efficient uses of water and energy, to actions for the reinclusion of waste in the production system. Starting with the design of products and services that allow to extend the life of the resources and their reuse.
The circular economy model invites us to think differen. To change the linear model of economy based on the cycle“extract-produce-use-pull” to a new circular model that focuses on the efficiency of resources, which keeps products and materials as much as possible within the economic cycle through reuse, sharing, recycling, remanufacturing and review of design and processes.
Recycling, therefore, is one of the possible strategies of the circular economy, but the key lies in the design of products, services and processes to facilitate the reuse of materials and their recycling and recovery.
Is the circular economy a business opportunity for the our economy?
The circular economy is not only respectful with the environment, but is a source for innovation, a new model that increases efficiency, decreases the use of resources and saves costs. It can be an economic opportunity for companies to find new business models and generate new business opportunities and benefits and create jobs.
Which is the current situation in Catalonia? Which are our competitive advantages?
According to the study “L’Economia Circular a Catalunya”, prepared by ACCIÓ, in Catalonia there are 391 companies offering circular economy solutions. In 2014 they added a turnover of 4,090 million euros and gave work to 70,419 workers. In addition, we have 217 centers and research groups working in this field.
It is also important to highlight that Catalonia has the knowledge and the experience to implement these dynamics. On the other hand, the Catalan industry is very diverse: this facilitates symbiosis and cooperation, since many times the processes associated with the valorization and reuse transcend the borders of the involved companies and require the participation of other actors.
Which mechanisms do the various levels of the administration currently have to promote it?
The European Commission approved in 2015 a package of measures for the promotion of circular economy that affect the entire life cycle of the product, from design, supply, manufacturing, waste management, secondary raw materials and consumption. This package includes specific actions for plastics, food, critical raw materials, biomass and bioproducts. The Spanish Government is also working on the development of a circular economy strategy seeking to involve different agents in the development of its potential.
And what about Catalan authorities? How is this model being promoted?
A good example of that would be the National Pact for Industry, approved in July 2017, which sets the circular economy as one of the axes to develop the competitiveness of Catalan companies. The plan includes actions to promote the concept of Circular Economy and its application in our country, to promote business and innovation projects in this area, to promote efficiency and energy savings and resources and to make available to companies instruments that allow this transformation .
Among these instruments we can highlight the Ecoinnovation Coupons, which are simple and flexible tools that allow companies to innovate in their business model based on circular economy criteria, apply ecodesign for their products as well as improving life cycles.
How can this model be promoted by the local administration? Which are the success cases here in Catalonia?
The local administration is also working in this field, favoring the prevention and reuse of waste in industrial symbiosis projects. A compilation of different initiatives can be found in the Guide of Local Initiatives towards the Energy Transition in the Industrial Estates, elaborated by the Industrial Pact of the Metropolitan Region of Barcelona.
And the citizens and companies? How can we boost the circular economy on a small scale, in our day to day?
We have good examples of companies working according to Circular Economy criteria such as Zicla, which designs products with local waste; Damm, which sells the waste generated in the production of beer to farms, etc. In this sense, consumers will have to play an important role, not only in the prevention of waste generation, selective separation, and recycling, but also in modifying habits and consumption criteria.