In recent years, the European Commission has tried to promote the transition to a circular economy with the Circular Economy Action Plan. An important reason for this is that the transition could bring the European Union 7% extra economic growth in 2030 and 170,000 new jobs in 2035. In addition, the transition will substantially reduce the ecological footprint. Nevertheless, the European Commission itself states that a lot of policy is still needed to achieve all the benefits of a circular economy.
In 2015, the European Commission approved an action plan to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in Europe. Since then, the Commission has introduced 54 measures to make the life cycle of products circular: from the production and consumption phase to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials. In order to speed up the transition along the entire value chain, five priority sectors have been identified. These are plastics, food waste, essential raw materials, construction and demolition, and biomass and materials of biological origin. The measures emphasise the development of an environment in which investment and innovation can flourish (European Commission, 2019).
If the European Union can make the transition to a circular economy, the benefits will be great. From 2030 onwards, €600 billion could be saved annually on primary material costs, €500 billion through lower costs for negative side-effects and €700 billion through other cost savings. These cost savings and new business models will increase gross national product by 11% by 2030 compared to the increase in following current practices (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015b).
Reduced environmental footprint
In addition to these economic benefits, the European Union also gains a great deal in terms of the environment. Applying the principles of the circular economy to the construction, food and mobility sectors could lead to a 48% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 and as much as 83% by 2050, compared to the CO2 emissions in those years if the current model is adopted. The application of circularity to the economy also reduces the use of metals and concrete for means of transport and construction, fossil fuels, land, fertilizers, water and pesticides. By optimising the construction, food and mobility sectors, space for infrastructure can be replaced by green areas and housing, thereby increasing the quality of life in cities and improving air quality (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015b).
The European Commission itself states on the follow-up to the Circular Economy Action Plan that if the European Union wants to maintain its leadership role in the design and production of circular products and services, circularity must become the backbone of the industrial strategy. For example, circularity must be introduced in new areas and sectors, life cycle assessments of products must become the norm and the framework for eco-design must be broadened as much as possible (European Commission, 2019). Eco-design looks at the whole life cycle of a product or process and addresses the highest environmental impacts first.