Climate change, pollution and loss of biodiversity. Three major global problems that the circular economy can address. In addition, circularity has many health benefits, thanks to the reduction of environmental impacts, better management of resources and advances in food security. Ultimately, the circular economy is essential to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 on responsible consumption and production, although it also provides benefits under SDG 9 on industrial development and SDG 13 on climate action. And this becomes even more important at a time when all countries are looking to restart their economies after the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this sense, as industries and governments around the world move forward on the circular economy, it becomes more necessary to align and create a common road map. That is why the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has established five universal circular economy policy goals that provide a framework for creating a transition that fosters innovation and separates growth from consumption of limited resources and from environmental degradation. In addition, they show that relevant policies are interconnected, so that alignment at the national and international level will help reduce cross-border frictions, minimize the risk of individual policies becoming isolated, and eliminate the “make-take-waste approach”.

1. Stimulating design for a circular economy

All products must be allowed to be designed, accessed and used in a way that eliminates waste and contamination. They should lead to effective and economically attractive circulation:

  • Product policies that focus on good design for durable goods and packaging.
  • Encourage circular building designs through building policies.
  • Promote regenerative production by developing supply practices and agricultural and land-use policies.
  • Adapt chemicals legislation.
  • Develop standards to support trade in goods, services and circular economy systems.

Other articles of interest: What is ‘upstream innovation’ and why is it essential for the circular economy

2. Manage resources to preserve value

The development of business models and resource management systems that keep products and materials at their highest value should be promoted:

  • Create tax and purchasing policies that encourage repair, exchange, and resale to maximize asset use and return on energy investment.
  • Develop and harmonize collection and classification policies that lead to the retention of the value of materials.
  • Develop markets for secondary materials and by-products.
  • Implement spatial planning policies to improve the flow and use of materials.
  • Strengthen resource circuits through Extended Producer Responsibility (REP) policies and Deposit Return Plans (PDD) to support circular opportunities.
  • Review the classifications and definitions of resources in the legislation on waste.
  • Discourage landfill dumping and incineration.

3. Create favorable economic conditions for the transition

Create economic incentives and establish regulatory requirements that allow circular economy solutions to become the norm, not the exception, thus generating large-scale benefits:

  • Align tax and tariff incentives with circular economy outcomes.
  • Review and deploy grants.
  • Establish conditions for state aid and government funds.
  • Review the competition policy.
  • Adapt intellectual property rights.
  • Implement labor market policies to support the transition.
  • Incorporate the circular economy into trade policies.
  • Use public procurement to develop new markets.
  • Guarantee transparency with taxonomic and disclosure requirements.
  • Review of digital and data regulation.

Other articles of interest: The importance of standardisation in the plastics sector

4. Investing in innovation, infrastructure and skills

Public money must be invested and private sector investment stimulated in such a way as to develop the necessary skills to create circular economic opportunities, ensure an inclusive transition, support innovation and develop the necessary infrastructure to scale the transition:

  • Provide interdisciplinary research funds.
  • Provide early-stage venture capital financing.
  • Support combined financial, physical and digital solutions.
  • Incorporate the circular economy into school curricula.
  • Develop training and learning programs.
  • Promote skills through international aid.

5. Promote collaboration for system change

Once again, public-private collaboration must be promoted in all value chains to eliminate possible barriers, develop new policies and align existing ones:

  • Create inclusive and agile working mechanisms with multiple stakeholders to develop systemic solutions.
  • Develop and implement awareness campaigns.
  • Accelerate progress through measurement and data.

Ultimately, working towards these five goals as an interconnected whole is key to a systemic change in production and consumption.