Civil society networks to take circular economy to next level

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The second day of the Circular Economy Stakeholder Conference, which was hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), focused on the ideas and actions which are emerging inmany parts of Europe, where SMEs, social economy enterprises, workers, farmers, manufacturers and consumers are actively implementing the circular economy on the ground.

The EESC welcomed over 300 participants for 16 parallel participatory workshops where people could actively share their knowledge and best practices and flag obstacles hampering the development of the circular economy.

The parallel workshops or "circles" tackled topics such as:

  • What can the stakeholder community do to facilitate repair? Can a rating system for appliance repairability and serviceability serve a useful purpose? How can ecodesign help plan products with a long lifecycle?
  • What is the role of waste? How can high-quality waste material be supplied in sufficient quantities to the circular economy? Can citizens and companies be persuaded to collect waste for the circular economy through tax incentives?
  • Extended producer responsibility (EPR): tackling the grey zone when a product ceases to be a product and becomes waste.
  • Τhe agri-food and forestry sector, The circular approach to the agri-food and forestry sectors is a win-win for farmers, forest managers, and the environment How can existing projects be scaled up and new ones promoted? How can the isolation experienced in remote areas be overcome by developing communications channels and techniques and rural networks?
  • Ηow can we ensure that the shift to a circular economy is happening globally, and not just in Europe? Circular economy principles also need to be built into the EU's trade agreements. Europe cannot surround itself with a wall to become circular, but standards need to be maintained.
  • The circular economy also has a social dimension. The transition to circular economy is expected to create jobs. Repair and maintenance are highly labour intensive sectors which would allow to relocate back in Europe jobs that were lost as a result of globalization. For every 10,000 used goods, 296 new jobs are created in the circular economy compared to 36 in recycling. But we will need invest in people and allow workers to acquire the new skills that will be required of them.
  • Green financing. How can SMEs change their linear business model into a circular one without risking going out of business? What kind of financing would help make the transition feasible for them?
  • Creating a problem-solving community to help meet the circular economy's business challenges. As an example, Henkel is facing a problem with access to high quality recycled bottles in large quantities, and participants were asked to help identify possible solutions?
  • How circular is the SME community over Europe? Small businesses make up 98.7% of all businesses. If small businesses are not engaged, the whole circular economy will not work. SMEs suffer from a lack of information on the circular economy. How can the information gap be filled at local level?

What emerged from discussions, however, is that time is pressing and that all players must be involved. The circular economy community needs to be enlarged as much as possible and practical experiences shared as broadly as possible to produce a multiplying effect.

Raising the tempo and mobilising the broadest possible forces to carry out practical actions are the main tasks of the EESC, via its managing of the website and the development of a truly cooperative and engaged community of stakeholders.

A full report with the main findings and achievements of the Circular Economy Stakeholder Conference will be published soon on the website of the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform.