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Out of the “throwaway society”: Germany’s path to a circular economy

Today’s production and consumption patterns mostly follow a linear logic: extract, produce, consume, dispose. The consequences include climate change and pollution. A Circular Economy aims to change this fundamentally by optimising material and energy cycles and closing them as far as possible. In its Circular Economy Roadmap, which it handed over to the Federal Ministry of Education and Research today, the Circular Economy Initiative Germany shows which change processes are necessary to achieve this. In it, the initiative provides policy-makers, business and science with recommendations on how the transformation to a circular economy can succeed.

On the occasion of the handover of the Circular Economy Roadmap for Germany to the Federal Ministry of Education and Research at the virtual event “Made with Germany” – Germany on the Way to the Circular Economy”, Michael Meister, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Education and Research, said: “We need a resource-efficient circular economy in order to leave behind a world for future generations in which they can live healthily and prosperously. The Circular Economy Roadmap for Germany shows how we in science, business, society and politics can succeed in achieving this goal through joint efforts.”

According to Susanne Kadner, head of the office of the Circular Economy Initiative Germany, it is central to a Circular Economy to decouple economic growth from resource consumption: “This separation enables us to increase our quality of life and secure fair prosperity without at the same time operating beyond planetary limits.”Calculations within the framework of the initiative have shown: “With the levers of a circular economy – for example, longer useful life and intensification of use as well as significantly more recycling – the total amount of primary raw materials could be reduced by 68 percent in Germany by 2050 compared to 2018. “If a circular economy is implemented consistently, it can address several closely interwoven crises at the same time: For example, climate change and the EU’s goal under the Green Deal to become climate-neutral by 2050 – but also resource use, biodiversity and global health.

In order for this goal to become a reality for Germany, a transformation process must be set in motion, which the experts from science, industry and society would like to initiate with the Circular Economy Roadmap for Germany published today.Thomas Weber, acatech Vice President and Chairman of the Circular Economy Initiative Germany, explains: “Germany needs – and better today than tomorrow – an integrated, comprehensive Circular Economy strategy with concrete targets on topics such as waste avoidance, recycling or total resource consumption. “The implementation of the proposed package of measures must be coordinated by policymakers across ministries and accompanied by a transdisciplinary expert advisory board. “A concrete market model for more circularity can only be developed and then implemented jointly by politics and business,” says Thomas Weber.

With these and other recommendations for action, the initiative describes the gradual transition to a circular economy by 2030. A central building block for achieving this breakthrough is explained by Martin Stuchtey, Managing Partner of SYSTEMIQ – co-initiator and cooperation partner of the Circular Economy Initiative Germany: “We need a realignment of financial incentives – including taxes, subsidies and pricing of environmental damage – to support climate- and resource-optimal economic decisions. In other words, we need to charge or reward economic actors according to the level of their resource use and environmental impacts.” Such measures would then support both the protection of the climate and biodiversity and the development of innovative digital business models along the lines of Industry 4.0. “An example of such a measure is shifting levies towards pricing CO2 and resource use – although further scientific analysis of the impact of such measures is needed in parallel.” The initiative recommends that federal politicians promote these and other topics within the European Union as a driving force for a Circular Economy.

But according to Thomas Weber, it is not only politics and science that are needed. Companies should also actively support an industrial and environmental policy orientation in order to enable the implementation of a circular economy: “With the Circular Economy Initiative Germany, we have identified ten key areas for action. These show how companies can become a supplier of “circular services” instead of products through new business models.By designing a plastics circular economy, we can thus counter the waste problem, for example. Another example is circular battery management; here a new service industry can emerge from a resource bottleneck. Together, we need to implement these proposals now – there’s a lot of music in there!”

About the Circular Economy Initiative Germany

The Circular Economy Initiative Germany was founded in March 2019. It is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). In addition to the BMBF, the Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, companies, research institutions and other relevant civil society organisations are involved. The Circular Economy Roadmap Germany, published today, is the result of interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral collaboration between more than 130 experts, including the results of three working groups on the topics of “Circular Business Models”, “Packaging” and “Traction Batteries” of the Circular Economy Initiative Germany.