Circular economy: Intelligent production, use and waste routes for the environment and society

Unless we replace today's throwaway society with an eco-efficient, closed-loop approach to production, waste and recovery processes - rather than the life cycle of a product - it will be impossible to maintain our planet's finite reserves for future generations and avoid further damage to flora and fauna with a negative impact on human health, society and the environment. That is why we have to work towards a circular economy.

What is a linear economy?

A linear economy uses finite resources, such as fossil fuels, to make products that are then simply thrown away and often have negative effects on the environment or human health (or both).

What is a recycling economy?

In a recycling economy, the goal is to steadily increase the proportion of secondary raw materials for production. Obtaining secondary raw materials from waste should, therefore, not be seen as a disposal problem, but as part of the raw material supply. The more secondary raw materials are obtained from waste and replace primary raw materials in industrial production, the less energy and water is consumed and the less interference with nature is necessary to extract raw materials. At the same time, by using secondary raw materials, considerable amounts of climate-damaging carbon dioxide can be avoided.

What is a circular economy?

A circular economy strives for the longest possible use of products and raw materials. In practical terms, this means avoiding waste through reuse or further use (recycling / reuse). If that is not possible, they are broken down into their starting materials, i.e. raw materials, and these are recycled. Waste avoidance and reuse always come before recycling.

What is a linear, recycling and circular economy | Wasser 3.0

The EU circular economy package

The rules of the EU Waste Package set binding targets for waste reduction and updated rules to reduce waste generation, better control of waste management, promote the reuse of products and improve recycling in all countries of the EU.

The EU plastics strategy

Every year Europeans generate 25 million tons of plastic waste, but less than 30 percent is collected for recycling. The plastics strategy aims to protect the environment from pollution while promoting growth and innovation. According to the new plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market should be recyclable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced and the deliberate use of microplastics restricted. These are primarily goal descriptions. There is hope that the subject of recyclability and the use of recycled materials will become important cornerstones in the guidelines for the directive on packaging and packaging waste.

Zero Waste

What began a few years ago with organic and fair trade, then developed through recycling and upcycling, cradle-to-cradle (c2c) and sharing economy, is increasingly leading to a zero-waste strategy, complete waste avoidance or so-called precycling.

Recycling, upcycling, c2c and reuse are, therefore, preliminary stages of zero waste. This approach not only includes the production processes, but the entire supply chain, trade, and the adjacent areas: energy, transport, etc.

Plastics and circular economy

Used plastics are an ecologically and economically advantageous source of secondary raw materials to manufacture marketable products and at the same time to conserve fossil raw material sources. There are three ways of recycling plastics, namely:

  • material,
  • raw material
  • energy recovery,

which are used depending on the material quality. Despite the undeniable national, European, and global successes in plastics recycling, there is still untapped recycling potential.

In 2018, around 29 million tons of plastic waste were generated across Europe. Of this, around seven million tons were landfilled and around 22 million tons were recycled.

In 2019 alone, German companies processed 14.6 million tons of plastic. Synthetic fibers, adhesives and paints as well as rubber polymers, which are found in tires, for example, were not taken into account. Whether yoghurt pots, shampoo bottles, cell phones or in cosmetics and household cleaners, plastics can be found everywhere. They can also be used in the construction industry, in agriculture and as materials. We have found many possible uses for plastics, but we have not yet been able to really solve the waste problem.

Further information

More news in our blog

24. June 2024

Microplastics and Textiles – a state description

One of the main sources of direct microplastic entry into the environment is through the wearing and washing of synthetic textiles. This accounts for approximately 35% of the microplastics entering the global marine environment every year, amounting to between 200,000 and 500,000 tonnes. There are multiple pathways and options to target the unintentional release of microplastics from textiles, from the design through to the use and disposal, that must be considered. The European Commission has identified the textile value chain as a key priority in the EU Circular Economy Action Plan and proposed key actions and measures that are set to be finalized by the end of this year. This blog will provide an overview of issues related to the synthetic textiles, the proposed pathways to target unintentional microplastic release, along with the associated challenges that must be addressed.
16. April 2024

EU Urban Wastewater Directive adopted in April

The EU Urban Wastewater Directive (UWWTD for short) was adopted by the European Parliament at the beginning of April 2024. Among other things, it aims to remove microplastics and micropollutants from our wastewater and increase the efficiency of wastewater treatment plants in a cost-effective manner. The keywords here are also: Resource conservation, water quality, circular economy, energy efficiency and sustainability. But what is the roadmap for this? We have taken the Wasser 3.0 perspective.
22. March 2024

World Water day 2024 in the plastic age

We've all heard of the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. But what era are we actually living in today? Perhaps most likely the "plastic age", also known as the Anthropocene ("determined by man"). The age of the disposable society began with the introduction of polymers and plastics into everyday life. And with it came the great promise that cheap plastic products would eliminate the need for laborious cleaning and repairs as well as numerous costs, such as those for transport. And so it was, but unfortunately for far too long people forgot to consider what happens at the end of a product (disposal) or to produce, process, use, and recycle products in a circular manner and beyond internal processes.