Our production and consumption systems rely on raw materials that are, to a large extent, not reused or recycled. This linear model creates endless waste, continuous demand for virgin raw materials and unsustainable consumption patterns. The solution is to move to a circular economy where products and materials can be used longer and made into new products after use.

Circular plastics?

Our assessment identifies three ways to make the production and consumption of plastics more sustainable: 

Using plastics in a smarter way includes reducing unnecessary packaging and single-use products, as well as a more circular design that makes products last longer and easier to reuse and repair. 

Increasing circularity requires longer use and reuse of products and better collection, sorting and recycling of plastics. Good practice examples include stores that offer to take back their own products at the end of the product life-cycle. The role of consumers is also critical in choosing what to buy and ensuring proper recycling. 

Increasing the use of renewable materials involves, for example, using more recyclable, biobased plastics, instead of relying solely on fossil fuels and their imports.

Do Europe's markets for recycled raw materials work?

The EEA report ’Investigating Europe′s secondary raw material markets’ presents a set of criteria to analyse the functioning of markets for secondary, recycled raw materials. Improving markets for recycled raw materials is key to delivering a circular economy in the EU, reducing the need to extract natural resources and avoiding the associated environmental impacts.

Europe’s ambitions for a circular economy require the timely provision of good-quality recycled raw materials to manufacturers. However, according to our report, from the eight most common recyclables, only aluminium, paper and glass have well-functioning secondary markets. Lack of standardisation and competition with new materials are among the challenges for other markets, such as wood and textiles.

Is Europe making progress towards a circular economy?

How can we upscale circular business models?

Three elements are needed to implement and upscale circular business models. Together these elements provide a framework to implement and upscale circular business models:

  • Circular goals like reuse, repair, and recycling schemes, must be agreed on by policymakers.

  • New business models developed by private companies.

  • Technical and/or social innovation in business and society.

Overall, a systemic change towards circularity will be needed to reduce environmental and climate pressures and impacts from our production and consumption patterns. 

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