The transition to a circular economy requires regional data and quantitative targets

News 2021-04-29 at 12:59
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A Europe-wide circular economy policy was launched in 2014 when the European Commission published the first strategic policy programme for circular economy. It was designed to impact on sustainable transition: sustainable growth and a climate neutral, resource efficient and competitive economy.

In Finland, Circwaste – Towards Circular Economy is one of the biggest development projects accelerating the transition to a circular economy and achieving the targets of the National Waste Plan. The numerous subprojects focus on municipal waste, industrial waste and its by-products, construction waste, soils and contaminated lands and the food system. Specific themes are reusing of plastics, material efficiency in hospitals, biogas production, nutrient recycling, surplus food and digital systems.

During the period 2016–2020, the project has produced monitoring data on the development of circular economy and the sustainability of waste management, highlighted the circular economy concept, promoted stakeholder collaboration, supported strategic processes, strengthened know-how and mainstreamed circular economy thinking.

More information is needed to support decision making

The key figures for Finland show quite clear coupling of the use of natural resources, waste amounts and economic growth. The circular material use rate is ca. 7%, which can be considered quite modest. Quantitative national targets for decreasing the use of natural resources are needed.

Instead of country comparisons, the focus should be on trends in order to learn from the past and to identify the policy instruments needed to achieve the level aspired to.

In the Circwaste project, a new regional waste indicator - household waste recycling rate in a municipality region - was introduced.

“One of the key findings is the need for regional indicators and data for decision-making”, says Circwaste Project Leader Tuuli Myllymaa from the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE

The work done within Circwaste is the first effort towards a systematic monitoring scheme for monitoring circular economy regionally. The study showed that the production of regional waste data is challenging, that the estimated recycling rates have not increased adequately to reach the EU targets and that there could therefore be a need for municipal level recycling targets.

How to make the transition to a circular economy socially just?

In the project, new indicators were developed for measuring social impacts: circular economy employment, education and employment for vulnerable groups, publicly shared resources, accessibility of recycling services and sustainable vehicle fuels.

The first baseline data show advances towards the circular economy:

  • the accessibility of waste management services has improved,
  • the Finnish educational system has been able to respond quickly to the need for circular economy education,
  • circular economy activities have potential for the employment of vulnerable groups and
  • economic activities related to recycling, repair and reuse have grown.

“The regions and municipalities emerge as key actors in facilitating a socially just transition towards a circular economy”, Myllymaa continues.

In the project, best practices to implement circular economy are collected and distributed to make them easily available for everyone – municipalities, citizens and entrepreneurs. The Material Leap platform has been created for documenting and sharing best practices.

Public procurers key players in the circular economy

Implementing circular economy in municipalities requires commitment, financial planning and interaction with regional actors. The construction sector is a major consumer of natural resources, but the municipalities can make construction more sustainable through public procurements and planning. As buyers, they can require the use of recycled raw materials and soils in construction projects.

“An important factor is the availability of circular economy know-how and resources. Municipalities would benefit from development, education and business supporting circular economy services. Employing circular economy experts in each municipality to work as cross administrative coordinators could also enhance the transition”, Myllymaa says.

The Circwaste project has created a lot of political, theoretical and practical content on the concept and field of circular economy. Now published interim report shows the results so far. The next steps are to further develop and widen, as well as deepen, the results and to provide national support in searching for answers and solutions for decreasing the use of natural resources, achieving the recycling targets and creating a more sustainable society.

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More information

  • Circwaste project: Project Leader, Head of Unit, Tuuli Myllymaa, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE,
  • Regional indicators: Researcher Tiina Karppinen, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE,
  • Social indicators: Senior Research Scientist Kati Pitkänen, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE,
  • Municipality cooperation: Researcher Hanna Savolahti, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE,
  • Best practices: Coordinator Kaarina Kaminen, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE,


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