Closing the circle: new challenges

By Elisabetta Perrotta, Director, FISE Assoambiente

According to recent statistics, the world’s population is growing at the rate of 80 million a year and is expected to reach 11 billion by the end of this century: from now to 2030, three billion new consumers will enter the middle class and push demand for goods and services to unprecedented levels.

The circular economy is one way to slow down the excessive depletion of the planet’s resources: waste is a resource that must be given value and must feed the production and consumption system. In this way it will contribute to reducing demand for additional raw materials. In Italy, since the 1990s, the materials recovery sector has experienced strong growth and diversification. From a sector mainly focused on the scrapping of ferrous metals, recycling has strongly diversified. Now, it encompasses a growing volume of paper, plastics and waste electrical and electronic equipment recycling, as well as the recovery of aggregates and biomass.

It is now two years since the EU adopted the Circular Economy Action Plan. This year, the European Commission has adopted a new set of measures – the 2018 Circular Economy Package – as part of its continued efforts to make the action plan a reality. However, there are several challenges that pose a threat to the EU’s latest commitment. Since last year, many recycling companies have struggled to place large quantities of secondary raw materials of average quality on the market. As a result, these companies are now left holding excess stock.

Countries must now wait and see what Europe decides for the new design and recycling standard to help the disassembling of products and support the circular economy market. Yet, no matter how strict the new requirements, the materials recovery process is still likely to produce waste – no matter how small a quantity – for many years to come. That waste could be recovered for its energy content or (the worst-case scenario) would need to be disposed of.

The sustainability of a circular economy system depends also on the availability of those plants that can close the waste management cycle.

Without that, the costs of disposing of waste coming from recycling processes will rise. The result could be that in an attempt to reduce a country’s dependency on raw material imports, it could instead become reliant on other countries that are better equipped with waste management plants.

FISE Assoambiente is the Italian Association representing companies involved in municipal hygiene services, waste management and soil remediation. It is concerned with regulations and technical aspects to develop the necessary conditions that allow fair competition in the market and the industrialisation of the waste sector.

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