Transformation towards a Circular Economy. © Unsplash/Marc Lipscke

Roadmap to a Circular Economy

Companies are "enablers" for a transformation to a circular economy. However, this can only work out with adeuqate political framework conditions. Our claims for the new legislative period: a roadmap to the Circular Economy.

According to a global survey in 2019 by Statista, 39 percent of companies along the value chain say they will include the Circular Economy in their innovation strategy in the next two years. 28 percent have already done so. It can no longer be denied that the topic has already arrived on the agenda of many companies. Circular economy concepts encompass a variety of approaches, such as rethinking of business models, product design or which materials are applied. But how can politics make its contribution to a transformation to the Circular Economy?

Helping to shape the Green Deal

With the "European Green Deal" and the "New Circular Economy Action Plan" (NCEAP), comprehensive new regulations are to be expected. As an example, the EU-Parliament is debating a "right to repair" to extend the life span of products. The new German government must become a crucial driver for the implementation of the Green Deal. This also means a reorientation of our raw materials policy, e.g. to close material and product cycles with additional instruments.

Promoting sustainable product design

Product design, with best available technologies, determines whether products and materials can be reused for as long as possible or in as many cycles as possible without or with as little loss of quality as possible. In its 2020 NCEAP, the EU Commission has therefore declared sustainable product design to be a priority of its future policy. The new German government should advocate the product-specific consideration of "Design for Circularity" criteria such as durability, reusability, reparability and recyclability.

Create stable raw material markets

Along the five-step waste hierarchy (avoidance, preparation for reuse, recycling, other recovery and disposal), it is important to keep raw materials in cycles and to recycle waste to the highest possible quality. In the use of raw materials, the goals of security of supply and climate protection must be linked above all. Many recycled raw materials, industrial by-products and bio-based raw materials already demonstrably meet this requirement. In future, therefore, the aim must be to continue to emphatically expand the share of raw materials from the circular economy used in industry. The German government should therefore work to ensure that the right instruments are developed for this purpose and applied throughout the EU.

Recognising and promoting climate protection potential

We need defined mechanisms for the holistic accounting of CO2 savings from circular economy activities. Climate protection is first and foremost a global responsibility. We must therefore enter into an international dialogue for a common understanding beyond Germany and the EU. The German government should also work at the European level for a swift and EU-wide ban on the landfilling of untreated municipal waste.

Involve public procurement

In Germany alone, up to 440 billion euros are estimated to be spent annually on public procurement. In the last legislative period, the federal government already established a fundamental obligation for contracting authorities to give preference to environmentally friendly products and materials by amending § 45 of the Closed Substance Cycle Waste Management Act (Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz). The new federal government should ensure that the regulations in the Act also have a real effect, e.g. through targeted general administrative regulations, advisory centres and competence centres.

Intelligent data networking

The material composition of products and waste plays an important role in the success of Circular Economy. However, since durable goods in particular can only reach the end of their life and be recycled after years or decades, there is little or no information available on their material composition. Digital information systems, such as the announced digital product passport of the EU Commission, which are to provide the necessary data for closed product and material cycles, must be developed jointly with the relevant stakeholders.