Europe’s move to a more circular economy is a complex and evolutionary process. Against this background, experts have agreed on principles to establish solid monitoring frameworks – this expert dialogue is known as the ‘Bellagio Process’. A richer and more complete monitoring framework not only facilitates a better understanding of the circular economy, but also aims to track the progress achieved, as well as identifies where more work is needed to achieve this transition.

Europe is progressively moving away from a model of production of consumption that is linear where materials from the Earth are taken, then transformed into products, and ultimately are thrown away as waste to a circular model where materials are kept in use longer and made into new products again after use. The European Commission's circular economy action plan offers the overall framework for initiatives to foster a circular model.

Understanding whether and how this is happening, the areas where progress lacks and identifying best practices are key to accelerating that transition. The 'Bellagio Process' is an international dialogue that agreed upon a set of principles on how to ensure that monitoring the transition to a circular economy captures all relevant aspects and involves all relevant parties. It serves to also guide national and European authorities in the development of monitoring frameworks and indicators.

The Bellagio Declaration

The Bellagio Declaration contains seven principles and was endorsed, in December 2020, by the Heads of the Environment Protection Agency of Germany, France, Slovakia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy and the EEA. The full document endorsed by these countries is accessible here.

Figure 1. The seven principles agreed upon during the Bellagio Process

Monitoring systems in place

The European Commission and Eurostat have established a framework to monitor progress towards a circular economy using available statistical data. The European Circular Economy Monitoring Framework focuses on aspects of the circular economy related to resource use and waste management. An update from May 2023 added elements to address the production side of the economy, and aspects like material footprint and consumption footprint. It also now includes a horizontal dimension on global sustainability and resilience linking circularity to climate neutrality and global material dependency.

In addition, EEA has developed its Circularity Metrics Lab (CML) which presents additional data on the initiatives and innovations that characterize a functioning circular economy. The CML is structured around four thematic areas: Enabling framework; Business transformations; Consumption; and Materials and waste. It comprises a diverse group of metrics ranging from well-established ‘indicators’ to other ‘signals’ which include scientific studies, surveys, and country-level datasets. The system also utilises novel data gathering techniques such as web-scraping to source information on the development of the circular economy.

The EEA is investing in improving the knowledge base on the circular economy, as a result of the Bellagio Process. At this point, six EEA indicators cover aspects of this agenda: