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Five countries moving ahead of the pack on circular economy legislation

  • 2014. november 01. 01:00
  • Csilla

Last month, the European Commission adopted a zero-waste programme, establishing a legal framework for an EU-wide circular economy. According to the Commission, the framework will boost recycling and prevent the loss of valuable materials; create jobs, economic growth and new business models; and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Among its goals are to recycle 70% of municipal waste and 80% of packaging materials by 2030. The Commission estimates that the circular economy can save EU businesses €600bn. And perhaps unsurprisingly, some of its member states are far ahead of the EU in adopting circular economy legislation.

1. Denmark

Denmark’s resource strategy, passed last year, treats all waste as a resource that should either be recycled or reused. “The Danish government is aiming at recycling 50% of all household waste by 2022”, explains Nicholas Kroyer Blok, a research analyst at Copenhagen think tank Sustainia. “Today, only 23% is recycled and the rest incinerated.”

He points to the Green Transition Fund, run by the Danish Ministry for Growth and Business, as a good example of the circular economy at work, focused on creating industrial symbiosis where one company’s waste is another company’s resource.

But while the government aims high, it’s up to the country’s 97 municipalities to realise the national goal, and they’ve got large sums of money invested in incineration plants. “The plants are efficient in terms of producing heat and electricity, but the smoke is full of hazardous materials such as dioxins and methane”, explains Blok. “The burned waste also produces ash that is extremely toxic.”

A law now bans the construction of new incineration plants but even progressive Denmark can do more to promote the circular economy. “We need to put in place more advanced return systems for products such as garments, electronics and rare earth minerals, which today’s return systems can’t handle”, says Block. “And we need to design our products with disassembly as the end goal. This means that everything in a product can be recycled and reused in new production.”

2. The Netherlands

The Netherlands, too, boasts stringent reuse legislation. “We have a set of regulations and fiscal and financial measures that have resulted in a leading role regarding the collection of household waste, e-waste, regulated car demolition, and so on”, notes Ton Bastein, manager of circular economy at the Dutch innovation organisation TNO. “Extended producer responsibility and voluntary targets with sector organisations are at the heart of waste management”, he adds.

New targets were recently set with the aim of reducing waste-to-incineration by 50%. The Netherlands has also set itself the target of 75% waste-sorting and separation at the source. “Landfill has practically vanished, waste incinerators have high standards and are all equipped with energy recuperation and recycling is at a high level”, explains Bastein. But there are challenges too. Curbing waste incineration by means of legislation must be the Netherlands’ next step, argue circular economy analysts.

“Overly enthusiastic construction of waste incinerators has led to an overcapacity in this partly liberalised market and potentially prevents some recycling opportunities to be explored”, says Bastein.

3. Scotland

Scotland didn’t get its independence, but it’s ahead of the rest of the UK in legislating circular economy practices, last year becoming the first nation to join the Ellen McArthur Foundation’s CE100 circular economy group. The network, consisting of 100 companies such as IKEA and M&S as well as innovators and administrations, aims for a three-year transition to a circular economy. Scotland, for its part, has set a waste reduction goal of 25% (from 2011 levels) by 2025.

Among its measures: increasing the supply and demand for high-quality recycled items; innovative collection and reuse of electronic goods; and – starting this month, requiring retailers to charge for plastic bags.

4. Sweden

This summer Sweden joined the growing group of countries legislating electronics recycling by passing a law that requires retailers selling electronic goods to accept the same quantity for reuse or recycling.

Sweden claims a somewhat dubious top spot in electronics consumption, with the average Swede annually buying 23kg worth of electronic goods. By 2020 Sweden aims to increase its metal recycling from today’s 70% to 85%. Earlier this year, the country also passed a law requiring packaging manufacturers to recycle more of their material. By 2020 Sweden aims to recycle 85% of paper-based packaging materials, up from today’s 65%.

5. Japan

Outside the EU, Japan has also moved towards a highly efficient circular economy thanks primarily to the pioneering Law for the Promotion of Efficient Utilization of Resources, passed in 2000. The law, which treats materials as circular goods, covers products’ entire lifespans. Manufacturers are legally required to also run disassembly plants, with material recovery a legally mandated as well.

That turns the headache of product disposal into an asset as companies can reuse materials. Today a whopping 98% of metals are recovered.

Source: The Guardian