Our planet is warming, species are disappearing, and resources are becoming more scarce. In a world where the population grows every day, and living standards continue to rise, we need a different economic model. We need a circular economy.
Keeping materials circulating inside the economy will relieve the pressure on our resources and environment, as well as creating business opportunities. It can build a new generation of European enterprises, making clean products and services to market around the globe. It can create local and diverse jobs all across Europe, in ecodesign, waste prevention, repair and recycling, as well as new services based on renting or sharing products. An economy like that could bring annual savings of €600 billion for EU businesses and reduce total annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2 to 4 %.
But a good resolution is never enough. That's why the European Commission adopted an action plan to move Europe towards a more circular economy, with proposals for design, production, consumption, recycling, and back again to production. There are also proposals for new recycling targets.
Most people would repair and reuse more if they only knew how. Do you know where to take your jeans or your furniture when it's time to upgrade? What if you had a guide on how or where to repair your goods? What if you had a financial incentive to return old products, so the materials and parts could be used again?
We think consumers and businesses should have this information. We want producers to design products that last longer and are easier to repair. And we want it to be financially worthwhile for producers to design their products in this way. To get the ball rolling, we'll be looking at incentives to make it easier to dismantle products like flat screen TVs, so they don't end up on the scrapheap with valuable materials going to waste.
The stakes are high. The EU currently discards around 600 million tonnes of waste materials every year. And while recycling rates reach 80% in some countries, in others they are below 5%. What we propose is a plan for raising that average, while still taking into account the differences between Member States.
The EU is already advanced in energy-efficient, low-carbon and resource-efficient technologies, and we need to build on this competitive advantage. Those best placed to make this shift are our small and medium enterprises, and many are ready to move ahead.
EU finance can help. To reinforce circular economy-related innovation and attract investors, the EU is mobilising European Structural and Investments Funds, its flagship Research and Innovation Programme Horizon 2020, cohesion policy and the European Investment Bank. The 'Industry 2020 in the Circular Economy' initiative will grant over €650 million to innovative demonstration projects. The Commission will also guide future investment, steering it more towards green choices, with progressive divestment from unsustainable activities.
A circular economy could be our smartest resolution for 2016. It's time to start transforming our economy in a way that reduces costs for business, creates jobs, and makes our environment cleaner. Now that's a resolution worth keeping.
This article originally appeared in Austrian newspaper WIRTSCHAFTSBLATT