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Circulair economy does not stop after recycling


I have only been working for our family business for three and a half years, so what do I really know? But in the land of the blind, one eye is king! In my work, I speak to many different industries every day. They have two things in common: they all produce waste and they all ‘suffer’ from information overload! Prime Tax, GreenDeal, recyclate admixture and extended producer responsibility! As a recycler, we are in many cases the ‘go-to person’ to bring clarity to this storm of information.

In his latest book, Jan Rotmans , known for his expertise in sustainability and change, describes a situation we currently find ourselves in: a perfect storm. In this storm, different values apply, and we need people with a different outlook. People with guts. Herewith, I give my opinion on recycling, and what anyone concerned with sustainability could/might/should consider! Whoever the shoe fits!


1. How does recycling relate to circulair economy

The simplistic way people talk about recycling drives me crazy. It seems as if simply separating waste and offering it to a recycler is enough to contribute to a more sustainable society. In a circular economy, materials stay in circulation even after recycling! Don’t start recycling for recycling’s sake, but harvest the material where you know the cost of distribution and recycling is covered by the demand for the material. If there is no demand for the material you recycle, are you contributing to circularity? This material requires a different solution: re-design, re-usable or in the worst case a ban.
As CE Delft describes in their publication , CO2 emission reductions are only awarded when the material has contributed to a new product. I argue that recyclers should be more involved in waste issues across industries, especially in the area of design-for-recycling.


2. Life cycle assessment (LCA) calculations

Toe-curlingly, I follow some discussions on LCAs. In healthcare, these are often calculated at item level, such as re-usable versus disposable. In my opinion, a circular economy requires a different approach. You look at the life cycle of the material, not just the item. What happens to the materials after their life in care? Should we include that aspect as well? Would we then come to the same conclusion?


3. The role of legislation

Effective legislation is crucial for successful recycling. Recyclers are already ahead of the rest due to their innovative nature. European environmental policy originated back in 1972 at the European Council and since then rules have been established on how we handle our waste in Europe . We were used to landfilling or incineration for decades, and now the government is getting into recycling. Recyclers were already implementing circular economy before the GreenDeal was introduced, but now the government suddenly has to do something with it. It feels like we have to reinvent the wheel and that is very frustrating for all parties involved. We need guts, empathy and vision to create new legislation that serves the circular economy, not only at the national level but also at the global level. Because let’s face it, how many products in your home are produced outside Europe?