Regulation, Collaboration Needed To Fast-Track Global Circular Economy

…European Green Deal, Covid-19 and new technology change environmental landscape

Cross sector collaboration and enabling regulatory frameworks, as well as technology innovation, can fast track the achievement of circular economy goals. This is according to industry experts who were participating in Messe München’s first IFAT Impact virtual industry forum streamed from Germany last week.

The IFAT Impact forum, which also represents IFAT Africa, the continent’s leading exhibition for water, sewage, refuse and recycling assessed the European Green Deal, the impact of Covid-19 on environmental initiatives, and the way forward for waste management and recycling.

Highlighting the long-term importance of enabling a circular economy, William Neale, European Commission Circular Economy Advisor, said: “The circular economy is not just about waste, it is also about retaining value in the economy. And that is where the real potential is – in creating jobs.” He cited figures estimating that for 10,000 tonnes of waste products and materials, one job would be created if it was incinerated, six jobs would be created if it was landfilled, 36 jobs would be created if it was recycled and up to 800 jobs could be created if it was refurbished and reused.

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The new European Parliament Green Deal, a roadmap for Europe becoming a climate-neutral continent by 2050, as well as a strategy to finance the Green Deal by attracting at least €1 trillion worth of public and private investment over the next decade, should be central to post-Covid economic recovery strategies, panellists said.

Pandemic impacts circular economy efforts

The Covid-19 pandemic was likely to impact both funding and progress on circular economy efforts, speakers said.

However, webinar attendees felt the impact would not necessarily be a negative one in the longer term: an online poll on what impact the corona crisis would have on demand for environmental technologies in the next five years found that 40% expected a positive effect and 38% felt the likely impacts were not clear yet.

Patrick Hasenkamp, Vice-President of the German Association of Local Utilities and President of Municipal Waste Europe, noted that the crisis had set the scene for broader collaboration:  “The current corona crisis has shown that we can work together in a co-ordinated manner. We must preserve this common team spirit and work hand in hand to achieve sustainability goals.”

Hasenkamp added that while no reliable statistics were available yet, the impression at European waste treatment and incineration plants was that a lot more waste was being generated during the pandemic. “More packaging material and biological waste is reported to be coming in,” he said. He attributed this to new hygiene regulations resulting in more food packaging, and to consumers purchasing convenience and takeaway meals instead of eating at restaurants.   

Enabling regulatory environment needed

Panellists said the regulatory environment could incentivise the use of recycled and recyclable materials and help enviro-tech innovators secure funding.

“Smart regulation and well-functioning municipal administrations are essential for a functioning circular economy. Investments in innovations, such as those we see at IFAT, are often not possible without new legislation,” said Dr. Christoph Epping, Head of Directorate WRII ‘Resource Conservation, Circular Economy’ at the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

“Politics must ensure crisp but attractive legislation, regulation and guidance. One major pillar of this change will be the financial and political support of breakthrough green innovation to disrupt markets with sustainable and green business models,” added Dr Eng. Sebastian Porkert, CEO of enviro-tech startup Ecofario.

Peter Kurth, President BDE (Federation of the German Waste, Water and Raw Materials Management Industry) and President FEAD (European Federation of Waste Management and Environmental Services) emphasized that regulators had a role to play in incentivising change in product manufacturing and helping drive circular economies. He said for example, public procurement could set an example by setting minimum levels of recyclates in products purchased.

He said this year alone, over 25,000 wind turbines would be sent to the waste market: “That is 125,000 tonnes of plastic which can’t be recycled and is hard to treat in other ways. We need legal frameworks for responsible manufacturing. We also have to enforce an end to the landfilling of untreated waste,” he said.

Innovation to drive better reduce, reuse, recycling programmes

The panellists highlighted the potential of innovative new technologies to help overcome current challenges in recycling.

Open data, access to data and the use of technologies such as Blockchain presented new opportunities to track products and share information about those products, said William Neale. “The real power in this is we now have an opportunity to attach data to a physical product, create digital product passports, and use technologies such as AI to improve sorting and recycling,” he said.

Lynette Chung, head of global sustainability at Covestro AG, agreed that digital innovation could support circular economy efforts. She noted that manufacturers faced significant challenges in moving toward a circular economy: not only did they have to test and source new materials, they also had to ensure the resulting products were fit for purpose and safe for consumers. “We have to work with the entire value chain, assess raw materials and understand what recycled products work in the market.  Industry needs to be given a chance to look at how to implement radical change across materials, recycling technologies and testing in order to address the issue we created some time ago.” She said digitisation and quantum computing could help industry achieve this change.

“Like our colleagues in Europe, Messe Muenchen South Africa also believes innovation and collaboration will be key to driving progress in a circular economy in Africa,” said Suzette Scheepers, CEO of Messe Muenchen South Africa. “Therefore, IFAT Africa 2021 will offer expanded opportunities for networking and collaboration, a showcase of the latest international innovations and technologies, and include high-level forums for knowledge sharing to further circular economy goals.”

IFAT Africa, to be staged at Gallagher Convention Centre for July 13 – 15, 2021, will bring together thousands of African stakeholders from across these overlapping sectors to discuss challenges, solutions and business opportunities in the crucial water, sewage, refuse and recycling industries.

The exhibition will also be strengthened with the addition of a Renewable Energy Zone and track sessions covering issues such as new trends in renewable energies, regulations and licensing for IPPs, energy storage, integrating renewables into existing power systems and new project opportunities in Southern Africa.

IFAT Africa will be co-located with food & drink technology Africa and analytica Lab Africa to enable knowledge sharing and networking across the broader value chain.

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