donderdag 19 juni 2014

Circular Economy - it should be about more than just waste!

Green Week in Brussels, though taking place in a conference centre tucked away between textile sweatshops in a multicultural neighbourhood off  Bruxelles-Midi, nevertheless managed to whip up lively discussions with an audience from all over Europe and even the US. Though the theme was 'the circular economy', most sessions addressed waste and recycling.

So, what is the circular economy? Is it just about waste? If we take the  model promoted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (, circular economy is about more than reuse and recycling. Jocelyn Bleriot of the EMF presented the familiar pictures with the technical cycle on one side and the biological cycle on the other. He proceeded to show several examples of  'closing the loop', all of which came from the technical cycle. I asked him a question about the biological cycle, mentioning that this is a different cycle from the technical. In the biological cycle it is far more challenging to ‘close the loop’.  Essentially, it is not about waste minimisation (though this is one of the issues), but about pressures from land-use and from biodiversity. Bleriot agreed, and told us that EMF has started with the low-hanging fruit. They are, however, well aware of the ecosystem service approach. EMF will move to the biological cycle later.

In another session, Bleriot showed some examples from the biological cycle, with biogas installations turning biowaste to useful purpose, and options for closing the loops of nutrient cycles of N, P and K in dairy farming. An interesting link between both cycles has already been made by the Fraunhofer Institute, which calculated that up to 80 percent of CO₂ emissions from German industry could be captured and reused by rooftop greenhouses that profitably produce crops.

However, none of these solutions address the negative effects of land use, with the associated biodiversity loss, and the services performed by ecosystems such as forests and oceans. These issues have been noted by Commissioner Poto─Źnik in his Roadmap Resource Efficiency. Addressing these issues with policy measures is more difficult. Much is expected from the sustainable food communication, which will be part of the Circular economy package expected 'before the summer break' (probably 1st of July).

As announced by Commission officials earlier, this is not only meant to address the reduction of food waste, (which by itself is important enough), but also the environmental impact of food consumption. But will they dare to speak the M-word? The consumption of animal proteins, especially from meat, destroys the world's ecosystems and contributes to loss of habitats and species, as is now well-known.

A first step for the Commission could be to procure more sustainable catering service next time.  Vegetarians like me had a hard time finding something edible at lunchtime, and I ended up dumping the chicken. How sustainable is that?