Circular Economy

A circular economy is one in which the value of materials, resources and products is maintained for as long as possible, with waste minimised. In a circular economy, our production methods use resources more efficiently, the products we use are more durable and reparable, and we re-use and recycle them more. This is in contrast to a linear ‘take-make-waste’ economy. Achieving a more circular economy contributes to multiple policy goals, including climate action, nature protection, waste reduction and resource efficiency. It can also promote social and economic wellbeing by driving innovation, job creation and cost savings for consumers.

Transforming our current linear economy into a circular one involves changing how we design, produce, use/re-use and recycle every item that we consume. Reflecting the need for transformations across the economy, in 2015 the EU adopted a Circular Economy Action Plan, setting out measures to stimulate Europe’s transition.

Building on our background in waste and chemicals policy, Milieu has been contributing to circular economy policy since 2016, with projects for the European Commission, the Committee of the Regions, the European Parliament and the OECD.

Some examples of Milieu’s work in this field are:

With countries around the world developing new policy and regulatory approaches to maintain the productive value of resources across material life-cycles, sharing lessons and good practices with policy makers in different countries becomes increasingly important.

In this study for the OECD, Milieu reviewed waste and circular economy policies in selected OECD member countries, ranging from Slovenia to Norway, South Korea and Japan to Chile. We assessed the effectiveness and efficiency of these policies in ensuring sustainable materials’ management and promoting a circular economy. Out of this assessment, we were able to identify options for reform that can be applied in many countries, which aim to build institutional, policy and financial frameworks that support a circular economy.

Reflecting widespread concern about the impact of plastics on the environment and human health, in January 2018 the European Commission launched its Plastics Strategy, as part of its Circular Economy Action Plan. The Strategy sets out new actions to reduce the impacts of plastics, including new legislation on single-use plastics. Other measures include actions to increase the separate collection and recycling of plastic waste and to curb marine litter, including sea-based sources of waste.

In this study, Milieu reviewed the broad package of measures set out in the Plastics Strategy and advised the Committee of the Regions on the feasibility and likely effectiveness of the measures. This analysis was carried out through the lens of the local and regional dimension, taking into account that the implications the Strategy would have for the EU’s local and regional authorities. Milieu’s report is available on the Committee of the Regions website.

Transitioning to a circular economy means fundamentally reassessing how we produce and consume the products we use every day. Studies frequently show that environmental considerations factor into consumers’ purchasing decisions; however, they find it difficult to navigate information about the environmental impacts of the products they buy. That’s why it is important to review the entire policy framework for consumer products to ensure that all means are used – including taxes, labels, design and production standards, consumer protection and end-of-life requirements – to nudge producers and consumers towards more sustainable products.

In this study led by Eunomia, Milieu analysed the EU’s current policy and legal framework for consumer products to assess how the EU framework supports the transition to a circular economy. This assessment looked at the gaps and shortcomings in the framework and how the framework can create incentives to improve the circularity of consumer products. This work supported the identification and assessment of policy options and the development of the Commission’s Staff Working Document on Sustainable Products in a Circular Economy.

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