Why rural Europe must embrace the circular economy to improve sustainability

The fight is not just about protecting the environment or reducing our carbon footprint - it is about building a system that can ensure prosperity for all people on the planet, including those in rural areas
Heavy farming equipment and wind turbines in Lebus, Germany | Photo: Alamy

By Malte Gallée

Malte Gallée (Greens/EFA, DE) is a German MEP and member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety 

19 Apr 2023

Talk of sustainability often focuses on Europe’s cities, to the detriment of the bloc’s rural population, whose perspectives and needs too often go unheard and unaddressed.  

Take mobility as an example. Proposals to ban private cars make sense in big cities with good public transport. But not in the countryside, where bus and train services can be sporadic or even non-existent.

And while electric vehicles are a step forward that both urban and rural regions can agree on, the latter face infrastructure challenges that result in unequal access to charging points. 

Growing up in a village of 28 people in southern Germany, I am acutely aware of the crucial role that rural areas play in our economies and societies. They are the source of our food and, as the European Union expands its renewables sector, our energy. Living in nature is also how I found my green identity, which drives my work in the European Parliament.  

For me, the fight is not just about protecting the environment or reducing our carbon footprint. It is about building a system that can ensure prosperity for all people on the planet – including those in rural areas – without destroying our common livelihoods.

That means embracing and building a truly circular economy, which offers rural Europe a path to achieving sustainability and prosperity.  

The circular economy fundamentally changes our economic model. It moves away from the linear “take, make, dispose” route towards a more sustainable and equitable system.

The circular economy seeks to reduce waste, promote reuse and recycling, and foster innovation and creativity. And it could have important consequences for less populous places.  

First, the circular economy has the potential to create jobs and drive economic growth by empowering the repair sector and refurbishment of goods.  

Then there’s agriculture. Promoting sustainable farming methods as a way to reduce waste can protect the environment and benefit local producers. And investing in renewables and energy efficiency decreases our dependence on fossil fuels.  

Rural communities should be at the forefront of the transition towards a circular economy

A sharing economy also creates innovation through online or mobile platforms, including car-sharing, co-working and grocery delivery services. These services could have a transformative effect on rural life, but require government investment to expand broadband access. Funding such projects would go a long way towards closing the gap between urban and rural areas. 

But the circular economy is not just about economic growth – decoupling it from social and environmental justice is unthinkable. We can ensure future generations inherit a planet that is healthy and vibrant, and that rural nature is preserved. 

As a young person from a rural area, I know we can build a better future for the people and the planet, but only if we are willing to take bold action and work together towards a common goal. 

We must ensure rural communities are not left behind in our efforts to combat the climate crisis and reach our sustainable development goals. In fact, they should be at the forefront of this transition towards a circular economy, with access to the resources and support they need to thrive.