Progress on the circular economy

Posted on Monday, 4 April 2022
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Circular Economy
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The publication of the Whole of Government Circular Economy Strategy and the Circular Economy Bill marks significant policy progress for Ireland.  Embedding the circular economy principles into our economic framework is a key step towards decoupling economic growth from resource consumption and meeting the targets set out in the Climate Action Plan and the carbon budgets.  It  puts the re-use of resources and reduced consumption at the heart of the Irish economy

Circular Economy

The Circular Economy forms one of the key pillars of the Green New Deal for Europe, to this end the publication of Circular Economy Bill is welcome.  A reduction in waste and consumption will help prevent waste of our finite natural resources and aid Ireland in meeting or national and international climate targets. It will also positively impact our economy by eliminating harmful subsidies and enhancing adherence to the principle of ‘the Polluter Pays’.

The ‘circular economy’ theory is based on the understanding that it is the reuse of vast amounts of material reclaimed from end of life products, rather than the extraction of new resources, that should be the foundation of economic growth.  The shift to a circular economy is labour intensive, focusing on repair, recycling, research and development, regenerating natural capital, and preserving and enhancing land, oceans, forests and wetlands.

Moving towards a circular economy and decoupling economic growth from resource consumption could help Europe to improve its resource productivity by up to 3 percent which could generate cost savings as high as €600 billion a year and also potentially translate into a GDP increase of up to seven percentage points over current development scenario projections[1]. A wider benefit of the circular economy is the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Finland aims to transform it's economy to one that is based on the principles of circular economy by 2035  This is seen as a key step to meet it's target of carbon neutrality by 2035. The key components of the Finnish circular economy programme are:

  • mainstreaming sustainable products and services and the sharing economy;
  • future-proof choices that strengthen our fair welfare society; 
  • the sustainable use of natural resources ensuring materials remain in circulation longer and more safely;

These components build on work ongoing in Finland to pursue the circular economic growth in five areas: sustainable food systems; forest-based loops; technical loops; transport and logistics; and common action.

The Finnish model could be informative policy in Ireland.  Were Ireland to adopt this model, it would need the support of the agricultural sector to engage in more sustainable practices in food production to minimise emissions; a concerted effort to increase forestry; a commitment to Research and Development (R&D) that focuses on longevity and sustainable production; greater incentives to use clean fuels in transport; and recognition of the relationships and interconnectivity between the economy, environment and society.  Targets for each sector for decreased consumption of non-renewable resources and increased productivity of existing resources would be required, with regular monitoring and actions if targets are not met.  

Ireland should be at the forefront of rethinking and redeveloping the use of plastics in the global supply chain. An innovative and sustainable plastics industry, where all elements fully respect the circular economy principles, would help to create jobs and reduce waste.    

The circular economy in Ireland is supported by the Environmental Protection Agency Waste Prevention Programme.  The circular manufacturing platform CIRCULÉIRE has set a target of a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and waste production for 30 Irish companies.  Adapting circular economy principles leads to economic benefits for business. An analysis of the Smart Farming programme on 50 farms, identified 10 per cent greenhouse gas emissions reductions and savings of €6,336 per farm[2].  Ireland has often been lauded as a hub of innovation. Our environment, and consequently our economy and society, will benefit greatly from the adoption of Circular Economy principles.

Policy progress

The overall objectives of the Whole of Government Circular Economy Strategy are:

  • To provide a national policy framework for Ireland’s transition to a circular economy and to promote public sector leadership in adopting circular policies and practices
  • To support and implement measures that significantly reduce Ireland’s circularity gap, in both absolute terms and in comparison, with other EU Member States, so that Ireland’s rate is above the EU average by 2030; such measures to address facets of sustainable production and consumption most impactful in an Irish context
  • To raise awareness amongst households, business and individuals about the circular economy and how it can improve their lives
  • To support and promote increased investment in the circular economy in Ireland, with a view to delivering sustainable, regionally balanced economic growth and employment
  • To identify and address the economic, regulatory and social barriers to Ireland’s transition to

The Circular Economy Bill puts the strategy on a statutory footing.  It:

  • defines the Circular Economy for the first time in Irish domestic law
  • incentivises the use of reusable and recyclable alternatives to a range of wasteful single-use disposable packaging and other items
  • re-designates the existing Environment Fund as a Circular Economy Fund, which will remain ring-fenced to provide support for environmental and circular economy projects
  • introduces a mandatory segregation and incentivised charging regime for commercial waste, similar to what exists for the household market. This will increase waste separation and support increased re-cycling rates
  • provides for the GDPR-compliant use of a range of technologies, such as CCTV for waste enforcement purposes. This will support efforts to tackle illegal dumping and littering, while protecting the privacy rights of citizens
  • places the Circular Economy Strategy and National Food Loss Prevention Roadmap on a statutory footing, establishing a legal requirement for Governments to develop and periodically update these two policies
  • streamlines the national processes for End-of-Waste and By-Products decisions, tackling the delays which can be encountered by industry, and supporting the availability of recycled secondary raw materials in the Irish market
  • consolidates the Government’s policy of keeping fossil fuels in the ground – by introducing prohibitions on exploration for and extraction of coal, lignite and oil shale

Social Justice Ireland has consistently argued for a levy on disposable coffee cups and we welcome the commitment in the bill to eliminate the use of disposable coffee cups and phasing out of single use disposable products.  This levy should mark a strong commitment to rolling out the ‘polluter pays principle’ across public policy in order to meeting our climate goals.