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Europe wants to turn waste into gold

| Text: Marie Preisler

Leading Danish politicians and businesses believe the circular economy is about to become a mega trend in Europe. Now they get backing from a new study which lists the enormous economic benefits which following a better use of resources. A new EU plan is in the works.

The EU Commission will soon present a plan for making the EU a so-called circular economy — which would mean introducing a completely new level of waste recycling. Even though the Nordic countries are leading the way globally when it comes to recycling, they have so far only benefited from a very small part of the environmental and economical advantages which can be achieved by a better use of resources. 

These are some of the conclusions in a brand new analysis of the potentials a circular economy would bring to Denmark, ‘The potential for Denmark as a circular economy’, which was launched on 25 November 2015 and discussed by leading Danish politicians, civil servants, businesses and experts during a conference in Copenhagen hosted by the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI).

The analysis has been produced by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which has studied circular economy for the EU Commission in the past. The new analysis was written for the Ministry of Environment and Food and the Danish Business Authority among others, and is based on a comprehensive case study of the potentials for the Danish economy and Danish businesses of a circular economy.

400,000 jobs in the EU

The conclusion is clear: There is such an enormous, untapped potential in improving the recycling of waste and other by-products in sectors such as breweries, food production and machine production that it can create a lasting, more innovative, resistant and productive social economy. 

In concrete terms the analysis predicts that Denmark by 2035 could create between 7,000 and 13,000 new jobs by applying a circular economy, as well as achieving a 3 to 6 percent increase in exports, increase the BNP by 0.8 to 1.4 percent while reducing CO2 emissions and the use of new resources.

An increasing number of international research results all point in the same way: Introducing a circular economy leads to growth, benefits the environment and creates jobs. The EU Commissioner for the Environment, Karmenu Vella, earlier this year estimated that a circular economy could create 400,000 jobs in the EU in the short term, and even more in the long term.

Denmark's Minister for Business and Growth, Troels Lund Poulsen from the Venstre party, promised the conference to work towards one of the analysis’ recommendations: to remove any legal obstacles to a circular economy. Parts of the tax system work against any increase in recycling, amongst other things. 

“I want to lead the way when it comes to exploiting the potential of a circular economy, which is so large that any business minister must look at this with the greatest interest,” the minister said. 

He expects the circular economy to be a theme during the next meeting of EU business ministers. 

Could solve raw materials shortage

Danish businesses welcome the initiatives. The Deputy Director General of the Danish Confederation of Industries, Tine Roed, said a circular economy opens up new business potentials and can help solve the shortage of raw materials for production, which companies will be facing as the world’s population grows and a larger middle class emerges, leading to higher consumption.    

This development increases the pressure on the Earth’s resources, and for some businesses this also means increased exposure when it comes to procuring the resources they need for their production. That vulnerability can be eased by the introduction of a circular economy.

Former Minister of the Environment Ida Auken from the Danish Social-Liberal Party has played a central role in creating the analysis ‘The potential for Denmark as a circular economy’. She called the circular economy a new “megatrend”. So far it has been a topic for environment ministers and was viewed as an obstacle to productivity. Today the situation has been turned on its head in Europe, she thinks:

“The EU Commission’s initiative will not solve everything, but there is a change happening in the EU system, and we are about to see a completely new approach to waste as a resource,” says Ida Auken.


NEW arrival: EU action plan for the Circular Economy


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