Photo: Clipdealer

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.