After what might be perceived as a rather wobbly start following the change in the set-up and format of the new European Commission, it is now becoming increasingly evident that we shall have a circular economy package, although, as expected and as should be the case, this will first be subjected to a lot of discussion and debate in order to make sure that we all get it right from the beginning.
There cannot be an effective circular economy unless the people understand what a circular economy is really all about. The best way to explain is to compare it to the linear economy we have now.
In the present economic system, resources extraction goes on unabated at an ever-increasing pace while turning them into products we mostly dispose of after use. Efficient as this process may seem to be it is definitely unsustainable. That is why the new path ahead plans for an optimally waste-free and resilient economy by design.
When a deeper analysis is made, one will realise that this new economic model is as ambitious as it is practical.
It will, no doubt, pose bold challenges, however, one should bear in mind that it can be achievable if constantly guided by the basic principles of the circular economy itself.
The transition to a circular economy needs to be well thought out as, otherwise, this could lead to a still-born process. Material streams need to be efficiently managed and recycled. Renewable energy should play a key role.
Against this backdrop, we should make sure that any negative effects on human life or the eco systems are minimised as much as possible.
When CEOs of certain big corporations start changing their thinking then there is much room for encouragement and optimism. A case in point was when the Philips CEO stated that, as the world increasingly demands safe and environmentally-sound products and services, the companies that have already made a conscious decision to be sustainable today will be the most competitive – these are the winners of the future.
Through new supply chains, technology and the right mix of policies we can make the circular economy happen and yield the desired results.
The best way to appraise the circular economy is to look upon it as a new positive way forward for both business and society. People will be convinced – particularly in the corporate sector – that a circular economy is the best way forward when they will realise, as a number of them are increasingly doing already, that earning money through a virtuous model is possible and ideal.
The European Commission itself has adopted the same bottom-up approach that we had followed when we started formulating our national waste management plan.
Not that they did not have any ideas of their own, but the Commission opened a public consultation to collect views on the main policy options for developing an ambitious new approach on the circular economy.
Making the transition to a circular economy will not be a walk in the park
Our own green economy strategy and action plan will be giving due importance to this new process but, ultimately, the success or failure of it all, even within a national context, will be how we can apply it within a country specific context, how to increase public awareness and how to stimulate in practical terms a competitive green economy in our island and beyond.
If well thought out, this process will enhance our competitive advantage not hinder it. This is why the Commission itself is seriously planning to put forward a comprehensive action plan with incentives for both consumers and businesses to use resources more efficiently.
Without stakeholder involvement, the project will not succeed. Thus, we need input from stakeholders in all parts of the value chains.
Rather than limiting ourselves to waste policies, the policy options for developing a competitive circular economy must also address the full product lifecycle as well as take into account the situation in all member states of the EU.
The ultimate objective should be to make our respective economies more sustainable and competitive in the long run by setting the conditions for the creation of more jobs without using and wasting the amount of resources we do today.
Ultimately, a stronger and fairer Europe should emerge, one that would ease pressures on the supply of raw materials and the environment.
For a clear picture and understanding of our economic cycle and the required transition to a circular economy we need input from all: the citizens, public authorities, businesses as well as all interested governmental and non-government parties. This is necessary because action will be required at all stages of the value chain.
The recent EU stakeholders’ conference will feed into the consultation process too. This is a process that will run until August 20.
Our first commitment should be to ditch once and for all the old notion that we should opt for take, make and dispose. This is an approach that merely results in massive waste.
Recycling is not the be-all of the circular economy. It is just an outer circle of it. One of the major goals is not just to design for better end-of-life recovery but to also minimise energy use.
Business leadership is urgently called for since many companies, especially the smaller ones, have still not heard of the concept. And when saying so, I do not have only Malta in mind.
Government intervention is needed but only at a support stage. It is interesting to note that the shift to a circular economy is catching on worldwide, so much so that it spans from China to Scotland, just to give you a fair idea of this spread. It will ultimately be a process that will change how we consume if it does happen as envisaged.
Making the transition to a circular economy will not be a walk in the park. It will be complex and, thus, new skills will be needed, skills that range from the technological to the environmental, together with creative disciplines of design, advertising and the digital sector.
Without knowing it, parts of our economy might be already operating in a circular manner. In the UK, it is estimated that some one fifth of the economy does so already.
And what about Malta? We need, first of all, an objective socio-economic assessment that looks at the whole issue, warts and all, from a purely country specific perspective. That is indeed what we plan to do. We cannot do it alone.
On the contrary, we would have to listen very closely to all key players to make sure that what the Commission is proposing is doable and that we can tackle it sustainably.
We need to look at best global practices but, at the same time, we must also benchmark ourselves and opt for targets that we can realistically meet.
Leo Brincat is Minister for, Sustainable Development,, the Environment and Climate Change.