The need for a circular economy
There are 3 reasons why we need to switch to a circular economy: the increasing demand for raw materials, dependence on other countries, and the impact on the earth’s climate (CO2 emissions). Moving towards a circular economy also offers opportunities for businesses.
Increasing demand for raw materials
In the past 100 years, the world population has been using far more raw materials:
- 34 times more materials (natural or synthetic materials for making products, e.g. wood and fibreglass);
- 27 times more minerals (e.g. clay and sand);
- 12 times more fossil fuels (e.g. petroleum and natural gas);
- 3.6 times more biomass (e.g. dead, biodegradable plant material and animal fats).
Since the world population is growing, the demand for raw materials is increasing too. This has major consequences:
- the burden on the environment is increasing;
- natural capital like forests, lakes and soil is being harmed and exhausted;
- biodiversity (the variety of plants and animals in the natural environment) is being damaged and lost;
- serious shortages of raw materials;
- climate change.
Dependence on other countries
Like many European countries, the Netherlands is dependent on other countries for its raw materials. The Dutch industry, for example, obtains 68% of its raw materials from abroad. Some of them are scarce and are becoming even scarcer. This could lead to more global political tensions. Rising raw material prices have negative consequences for the economy’s stability. Especially for the position of the poor.
Impact on the climate (CO2 emissions)
Extracting and using raw materials have a big impact on the environment and natural capital. They also increase energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
The transition to a circular economy offers economic opportunities for:
- business and science;
- cutting CO2 emissions;
- health and safety.
Business and science
A circular economy offers opportunities. For new and existing companies, but also for the scientific community. The Netherlands has a lot of expertise in solving problems related to raw material scarcity throughout the world. Many businesses in the Netherlands are leaders in innovation, design, recycling and creativity. We also have a good infrastructure. The European Union expects the transition to a circular economy to boost economic growth by € 550 billion and create 2 million jobs.
Cutting CO2 emissions
Smarter use of raw materials can lower CO2 emissions. The Netherlands emits 200 megatonnes of CO2 a year. Making smarter use of resources would reduce this amount by 17 megatonnes a year. That's 9% of the Netherlands’ annual emissions. This will help achieve the goals set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Health and safety
In a circular economy products are designed in such a way that they can be completely reused or recycled. Reuse means putting a product to the same use again. For example, using second-hand parts in a new car. Recycling means turning materials into new raw materials. For example, by recycling plastic into pellets for making new plastic products. In a circular economy products are also designed in such a way that they do not damage the environment when thrown away. This will save us money on water purification, cleanup and healthcare.