Creating a powerful circular economy

The continuing pandemic has highlighted the fragility of our linear economy; let’s use these difficult times as an engine for change, writes Victor Negrescu.
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By Victor Negrescu

Victor Negrescu (RO, S&D) is a vice-chair of Parliament’s Culture and Education Committee and a member of Parliament’s Budgets Committee

08 Dec 2020

The vulnerabilities of our current system, where resource extraction and waste production are causing indefensible environmental degradation, climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, are becoming increasingly visible. As the pandemic forces us to adapt our daily lives in ways we would not have imagined, it is also challenging us to rethink our strategies.

In the absence of a magical solution, we must place our hope in technology, green innovation, social entrepreneurship and the circular economy. Indeed, we can use this difficult situation as an opportunity to switch from a linear economic model to a circular economy and its principles (reduce, recycle, recover and reuse).

“By improving access to circular services, consumers will be able to make informed choices about whether to repair their current devices or objects or purchase new ones”

The circular economy applies to all sectors with the capacity to achieve synergies, which cumulatively can determine new development opportunities and can contribute to the creation of stronger communities and sustainable living.

At the EU level, the new Circular Economy Action Plan is a key feature of the European Green Deal and is seen as a concept offering potential for economic growth decoupled from resource use. It can also become one of the key solutions in the recovery plans designed by Member States, given the recommendation to allocate 40 percent of the Recovery and Resilience Facility for climate and biodiversity measures.

However, at this critical juncture, the transition from a theoretical approach to the circular economy, to genuine implementation, is not an easy task. Given that we are dealing with a vital instrument, I believe there are still issues to be considered. In order to ensure that all Member States support the circular economy, it is crucial to raise awareness and inspire citizens to adopt sustainable consumption habits.

Circularity is not simply about the economy; it is about everyday choices, from the things we buy to the amount of water we use. The European Commission has recently launched a range of initiatives devoted to the circular and green economies. Looking ahead, it is important that these steps are flanked with concrete measures that are implemented Europe-wide.

Despite this, the purchase of refurbished equipment and materials is excluded - for example, from projects being financed regularly by the European Union. This is an example that illustrates that this priority is not always reflected in practice. In Europe, we currently use 16 tonnes of material per person per year, six tonnes of which become waste.

Last year’s 53.6 million tonnes of global e-waste weighed substantially more than all the adults in Europe, or as much as 350 cruise ships the size of the Queen Mary 2. Less than 40 percent of electronic waste in the European Union is recycled and many products are not used efficiently. We simply cannot afford to continue this practice.

Therefore, I have decided to submit a parliamentary question to the European Commission, seeking to enable the purchase of environmentally friendly, reconditioned or upgraded equipment and materials from EU funding. Not only would these possibilities support sustainable consumption, as the life cycle of the products is extended, but the products would also be much cheaper than the new equivalents.

“Circularity is not simply about the economy; it is about everyday choices, from the things we buy to the amount of water we use”

As MEPs, I believe it is our duty to show the direction and promote eco-friendly behaviours. I have therefore chosen to use refurbished electronic devices in my offices in Romania. The refurbishment of the products is carried out by local associations which, through their efforts, contribute to the development of an efficient circular economy and the integration of people from disadvantaged areas.

By improving the access to circular services, consumers will be able to make informed choices about whether to repair their current devices or objects or purchase new ones. Moreover, benefits can arise even by recycling such devices at the end of their life cycle. Recovering materials from recycled devices could offer opportunities for making secondary raw materials available on the EU market and retaining their value in the EU economy.

I really believe it is time to act. Therefore, I intend to launch a computer collection programme for these devices to be reconditioned and given to children to use in disadvantaged areas that currently do not have access to digital education during the pandemic. We are creating a solution and showing everyone the accessibility of circular economy.

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