Circular Economy

Arguments and Positions

In late 2015 the European Commission presented a "Circular Economy" package for making the economy and consumption more sustainable. The goal is to turn "linear" material flows – from raw materials to products and waste – into cycles, enabling as much recycling as possible. Alongside changes in waste legislation, there is a comprehensive action plan. The EU Commission wants to take numerous measures in various political fields; these go far beyond the discussion about the waste legislation package.

Holistic approach

For the chemical industry, a circular economy is more than recycling. Central to this is efficiency improvement, in order to minimize the amounts of resources needed throughout the entire product lifecycle. By-products from production are directly returned into production processes wherever possible. The chemical industry has several circular options at the end of the product lifecycle: mechanical and chemical recycling of waste or energy recovery. CO2 from incineration can be used directly as a raw material.

Or: By way of photosynthesis, plants can convert it into biomass that can be used as a renewable raw material.

Circular economy as a chance

Requirements intended to strengthen "classic" mechanical recycling in a one-sided manner can be counterproductive to the development of innovative materials – this applies from product design all the way to waste recovery. Resource conservation and climate protection need to be taken into account just like costs and the customers‘ needs regarding quality and benefit. Trade-offs have to be resolved, using sustainability as guiding principle. In this way, the chemical industry can make an essential contribution to an efficient and sustainable use of natural resources in a circular economy.

Progressing digitalisation, where the chemical industry invests too, will also help strengthen a circular management style: Digital mass data is used in this present era "Chemistry 4.0". Here, more precise processes are expected to bring further innovation leaps – with impulses for a circular economy with maximum resource efficiency.


  • Create scope for innovation and competitive framework conditions
    The potentials of a circular economy for industry, society and environment can be used only with a comprehensive understanding of this circular economy which comprises all contributions to resource conservation. The goal of a circular economy is ambitious, and the way towards it is long. This transformation can be brought about only with an open mind for different technologies and enough scope for innovations – within competitive framework conditions.
  • Enable the use of the most suitable recovery method
    Sustainable waste recovery presupposes that the optimal recovery method is determined by the composition of the waste at hand. "Classic" mechanical recycling of materials must not become an end in itself. Depending on the properties of waste – e.g. regarding the degree of soiling or calorific value – chemical recycling or efficient energy recovery should be possible too. Chemical recycling is complementary to mechanical recycling and can become a problem solver for wastes that are currently still difficult to recycle. The decisive point should be which method has the best eco-balance in the final analysis. Landfilling must remain possible for industrial waste streams that can be no longer recovered, e.g. residues from incineration for energy recovery.
  • Maintain legal provisions at the interface of waste and chemicals legislation
    Wastes fall under the waste legislation. Materials are regulated by the chemicals legislation, also where they are generated by recycling. This means that product safety is ensured through the existing European regulations REACH and CLP and general and specific product safety directives in conjunction with the Waste Framework Directive (WFD). Additionally incorporating rules for chemicals in waste legislation would be counterproductive. Instead, more quality-assured processes should be applied to overcome obstacles to recycling. This should be done e.g. by way of guidance documents or cooperations between bearers of knowledge.

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Julian Jakob