Can the EU's circular economy apply to ports?

It makes perfect sense for ports to go circular, says Merja Kyllönen, but this will take legislative perseverance.

Merja Kyllönen | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Merja Kyllönen

19 May 2017

Parliament is currently working on legislative proposals related to safety rules and standards for passenger ships, registration of persons sailing on board these ships, inspection systems of ro-ro ferries and high speed passenger crafts, and professional qualifications for inland waterways.

Additionally, there have been many discussions here in Brussels lately on the environmental aspects of maritime transport. I was extremely happy to notice that some of Europe's biggest ports - Antwerp, Hamburg and Rotterdam, for example - have been introducing initiatives related to the circular economy.

These initiatives are not only very important, they also make sense. Ports serve as 'matchmakers' and crossing-points for all kinds of waste and industrial flows and act as logistical hubs for the import and export of waste materials, which is why they are ideal places to further develop the circular economy. Ports also accommodate industries that are active in the treatment, collection and shipment of waste and stimulate the emergence of innovation circles.


The core of the circular economy lies in ecosystems, combining different companies and industries. Therefore, the presence of industrial clusters in ports help to facilitate the circular and more sustainable use of waste and resources because they offer the benefit of existing synergies between industries.

What should be done to advance the circular economy in ports? First, it is crucial to recognise the value of waste and residual products. Waste has to be seen as a resource and a raw material. Of course, this should be done without harming public health and the environment.

The EU should also promote innovations and help to create a stable investment climate for businesses in the circular economy by harmonising waste legislation and safety requirements and reducing regulatory inconsistencies.

The transition to a circular economy is a lengthy process that will require legislative perseverance, as well as some level of predictability and consistency from European institutions so that industry and, in this case, ports, can make long-term investments.

But no pain, no gain: the benefits of the circular economy go well beyond the costs of investing in it. Going circular means contributing to our climate and environmental goals while thinking rationally about the economics behind our actions. Already there are industrial symbioses: what used to be waste for one industry is now a product and raw material for another.

We can and should recover materials and especially minerals that are becoming scarce more efficiently and put them back into production instead of shipping them to landfills, where they traditionally have been and to some extent still are polluting our soils. The possibilities are huge but so are the expectations for new products and job creation.


Read the most recent articles written by Merja Kyllönen - Reducing maritime transport emissions makes economic sense