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Tomorrow’s Europe is circular

New funding in the old continent to promote the development of a sustainable economy in the most strategic sectors.

by Amanda Saint
10 September 2020
6 min read
by Amanda Saint
10 September 2020
6 min read

In 2019, five EU national promotional banks and the European Investment Bank (EIB) launched a €10bn initiative to promote circular economy projects across the continent. Focused on innovation, waste reduction, recycling and development of the service sector, the fund hopes to make Europe more sustainable, more quickly, as the urgency of the environmental crisis becomes more apparent.
The funding supports the Horizon 2020 programme, which is the biggest research and innovation initiative the EU has ever undertaken. Running since 2014, Horizon 2020 has invested just under €80 billion in the past six years in key development areas: Excellent Science, Industrial Leadership, Societal Challenges, Science with and for Society, Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation, and the Enhanced European Innovation Council pilot.
It has also supported the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, the Euratom nuclear fusion project, and four key focus areas: Building a low-carbon, climate resilient future; Digitising and transforming European industry and services; Boosting the effectiveness of the security union; and Connecting economic and environmental gains—the Circular Economy.

Why go circular?

Research has shown that a circular economy has the potential to offer some advantages for EU businesses and residents, like the waste prevention, eco-design and re-use measures at the heart of the circular economy ethos could save EU companies around €600 billion while also cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2%-4% a year. Reducing pressure on the environment through less demand for raw materials and improve the security of the supply of raw materials; enhancing competitiveness and drive innovation and economic growth, while also creating work, with an estimated 580,000 new jobs in the EU alone. Finally, providing longer-lasting innovative products that will increase quality of life and save consumers money in the long term.

Circular projects

There are many projects underway as part of the EU drive for circularity, all of which are working to reduce waste, cut greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs and provide more innovative, sustainable products in many different sectors.
Since 2018, the Circusol project has been working on developing circular business models for the solar power industry. This initiative has become increasingly important in the past decades the number of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels installed in solar farms and on rooftops, as well as the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads, have increased rapidly.
It brings together 15 partners from seven EU countries to boost the sustainability of the solar power industry. The main areas being targeted are the reduction of waste and increased recyclability of solar panels and batteries.
How can this be done? Through developing and demonstrating Product-Service System (PSS) business models, which would mean that a supplier provides solar power generation and storage to a user as a service. The PV solar panels and batteries are installed at a site —either a solar farm, home or business— but the supplier is responsible for their management. So, when they reach the end of their use-life, the supplier takes them back and decides whether they can get a second life through refurbishment, be installed elsewhere, or should be sent off for recycling.

Sustainable mobility

Car E-service is developing circular economy business models for hybrid and EVs through advanced reuse and remanufacturing technologies and services, alongside new car-sharing schemes that would mean the phasing out of individual car ownership. Among the many benefits this circular model is expected to deliver: reduction of costs for drivers; significantly lowering greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle use in urban areas, improving air pollution levels; and boosting the financial performance of the automotive sector through recycling and reusing more components and sales of entire fleets of vehicles to car-sharing scheme providers.

Household appliances and Construction

C-SERVEES is developing and testing new circular business models for the electrical and electronics sector focusing on four products: washing machines, televisions, printers and an access monitoring device used in telecoms. It brings together research organisations, manufacturers, WEEE (waste electronic and electrical equipment) recyclers and ICT (information and communications technology) developers to find ways to make these consumer products more sustainable. The focus will be on developing leasing programmes, more customised products, and making access to them easier for consumers through innovative ITC programmes.
For the development of a more sustainable urban construction sector, CINDERELA project stands as one of the most important industries in Europe employing approximately 18 million people and generating 9% of the GDP. It also uses about half of all raw materials extracted, however, and generates one-third of all EU waste. The new business model in development, CinderCEBM, will help companies operating in the construction sector to set up successful circular economy business cases based on waste-to-resource opportunities. That means less raw materials will need to be used and recycling will be increased.
All of these projects are in very early stages. In coming months they will each be releasing results of their first development stages in helping these key European industries become more circular.