More steps are taken on the road to a circular economy

Written by: Lydia Heida | Published:
Image courtesy of WRAP

The EC has launched the largest international platform to promote recycling of raw materials, while scientists have published a report on the materials critical to a circular economy. And the paper industry is planning to invest €44bn by 2050 to create bio-based products, among others. Lydia Heida reports

In December, a project that focuses on raw materials was launched in Brussels during the first Raw Materials Week, organised by the European Commission. To date it is the largest international platform to ensure access to raw materials and foster recycling.

Representatives from governments, research and industry in Europe, as well as those from Japan, USA and other G20 countries, are participating in this so-called FORAM project, which stands for ‘Towards a World Forum on Raw Materials’.

Dr Jaco Huisman, from the United Nations University, in charge of the identification of FORAM key challenges and priorities, said: “Actors in the primary minerals and secondary recycling clusters in particular should talk much more to each other to fix data gaps and to foster sustainable materials supply for future generations.”

In the summer of 2018, a major FORAM event is scheduled that will present an analysis of raw materials and highlight the main obstacles and opportunities for international co-operation.

Critical materials for CE

Resource scarcity will stay a hot topic for many years to come. Recently, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) published a report on critical materials for a circular economy. It is intended to aid the European Commission, which will update its list of critical raw materials in 2017.

The report mentions many improvements that can be made to the recycling of rare metals, such as palladium, cobalt and indium. First, higher collection rates of products that contain such metals need to be achieved.

Second, since many critical materials are being used in consumer products at low concentrations, recycling of them requires a more detailed separation process as well as sophisticated metallurgy processes.

Recycling could be eased by improving product design, especially where modern electronic goods are concerned that contain sometimes more than 40 elements. Incompatible metal mixtures should be avoided, and gluing components together which will hinder recycling.

EASAC supports the Commission’s proposal to strengthen extended producer responsibility schemes by incorporating recycling costs in product prices and providing incentives for producers to design recyclable products.

The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) plans to create €44 billion of extra investments by 2050 in order to cut the industry’s carbon footprint by 80%.

“Our agenda goes against the gloom prevailing in so many industries. For CEPI, getting the conditions right to invest more in Europe will be the priority,” commented Sylvain Lhôte, CEPI’s new director general.

The roadmap to accomplish this is funded on the same principles as the critical materials report of EASAC: sustainably managed resources and advanced recycling are essential to secure quantity and quality of materials.

CEPI has high expectations from bio-based products that could create an added value of more than €3.5 billion per year from 2010 onwards. These products will range from food additives and biocomposites to advanced biofuels and nanocellulose.

It has also published an updated version of the Paper for Recycling – Quality control guidelines. These guidelines focus on inspection procedures for quality control at paper mills, especially on what controllers should consider during an inspection to decide if a load should be accepted, conditionally accepted or refused.

Missed deadline

When it comes to limiting the use of plastic bags, many member states missed a November deadline to announce plans to realise this, such as Poland and Greece. However, it is unlikely that the Commission is going to start infringement proceedings immediately. Instead, member states are now asked to report back on their plastic bag consumption before May 2018.

EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella intends to reduce the use of all plastic bags in the EU, including biodegradable bags, which are currently exempt under French and Italian laws.

However, some argue that it might be better to promote the use of recycled plastic bags, instead of banning plastic bags.

In 2014, a study of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology showed that single-use plastic bags made from polyethylene with a recycling content of at least 80% are more sustainable than all other sorts of bags, whether they were made from paper or bio-based plastic. So the debate about plastic bags might not be finished for some time.

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