“If we carry on with business as usual, by 2050 we will need three times more resources than we currently use” – Karmenu VELLA European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

Today's economy and consumption patterns are based on a linear 'take, make, dispose' model with a 'fast turnover' principle. Many gadgets, especially mobile phones or tablet computers, are designed to be replaced - and thus not used anymore and often littered - after only two or three years, well ahead of their anticipated lifetime. This leads to some critical resources becoming scarce and more expensive, while increasing volumes of waste and pollution are likely to pose a threat to welfare and wellbeing.

There is no doubt that the European economy and traditional consumption patterns cannot continue like this. Currently, it takes the Earth one and a half years to regenerate the resources we extract and use within a year. And the global competition for rare strategically important raw materials that are difficult to excavate or not available in Europe is increasing. To ensure our own well-being and grant citizens in developing countries as well as future generations the possibility to enjoy the same benefits as we do, we need to start operating within our planet’s boundaries and decoupling economic growth from resource use. The solution is a circular economy, where products are designed to last and can be repaired, reused, recycled, dismantled and remanufactured, and where harmful, fossil-based or synthetic components are substituted by bio-based alternatives. Making Europe more resilient towards the growing global demand for natural resources is an imperative of the 21st century.

An industrial transition towards a well-functioning economic system where materials are sustainably sourced, reused and recycled in order to limit the amount of virgin raw materials 'entering' the cycle, as well as the end of life waste 'leaving' the cycle is essential. At the European level, already a 30% improvement in resource productivity by 2030 would deliver an increase in GDP of almost 1% by 2030, create more than 2 million additional jobs and put us on track to a more resource efficient Europe profiting from related ecological, economic and social benefits. Reducing the extraction of raw materials will ease the burden on the environment. It has become increasingly evident that there is a limit to growth in terms of availability of natural resources. This means that companies have to respond to an increasing scarcity of natural resources. Reuse, recycling and remanufacturing thus reduce the pressure, from a business point of view, on competitiveness, profits and business stability and continuity.

Society as a whole and individuals will benefit from a circular economy. It will offer new opportunities to buy services instead of products (thus changing the traditional concept of ownership), create advanced leasing and rental arrangements and put consumers in a position to take informed and responsible consumption-related decisions.

Therefore the EU needs to start the transition to a circular economy without delay to ensure sustainable growth, resilience, climate and biodiversity protection, competitiveness and job creation and to contribute to the 20% reindustrialisation goal in the EU.

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Position paper
Circular economy