The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra released a report last year in which they concluded that a more circular economy could lead to deep emissions reductions from heavy industry: in an ambitious scenario, as much as 296 million tonnes CO2 per year in the EU by 2050 (out of 530 in total) and some 3.6 billion tonnes per year globally. The EU economy is accumulating large stocks of metals and plastics, and by 2050 could meet a large share of its need for these materials by recirculating what has already been produced: 75% of steel, 50% of aluminium, and 56% of plastics.
Achieving a truly circular economy requires a new way of approaching challenges related to raw materials. Unlike in a linear economy, in a circular economy, we need always to consider the whole chain – starting from the virgin raw material to its first use, possible second use, recycling and new life. Making this a reality requires a new way of thinking from all of us, from individuals all the way up to big corporations. We need to start thinking about the whole value chain, not only our own narrow part of it.
Making products and packaging reusable and recyclable is something that must be considered already in the design phase; that, in fact, is when the recyclability is actually determined. What collection systems will be available, and for what kinds of treatment? Local conditions may vary and should also be taken into account. To promote circularity, raw materials from the most sustainable sources must be considered – and these include materials that are waste-based and bio-based.
Plastic is a great example of a material that really holds its value. Born as a side stream of oil refining, plastic is in many ways a superior material: durable, light-weight, easily moulded into all shapes and available in every colour. After one use, plastic packaging and products can have a second or even up to ten new lives as new products and packaging.