Enhancing circularity: how do we get there?

What can be done to further enhance the circularity of products and processes, today? Paolo Falcioni, APPLiA Director General, was invited to share the industry’s perspective on further enhancing circularity with specific reference to the recycling and recovery stage at the 2022 International Electronics Recycling Congress.

What can be done to further enhance the circularity of products and processes, today? Paolo Falcioni, APPLiA Director General, was invited to share the industry’s perspective on further enhancing circularity with specific reference to the recycling and recovery stage at the 2022 International Electronics Recycling Congress (IERC).

To tackle the issue of enhancing circularity, we must first identify critical areas of improvement to work towards. Home appliances make up for one-half of the total WEEE generated in Europe. As such, “obtaining a clear picture portraying the amounts of WEEE that is actually captured and disposed of properly to become secondary raw material is of utmost importance to the sector, in order to make the most out of this most valuable ‘urban mine’, for the environment, for the economy and for the European citizens,” began Mr Falcioni. According to the APPLiA Statistical Report 2019-2020, around two-thirds of precious resources from e-waste remains undocumented in Europe, today. On the contrary,, “95% of the total WEEE collected, is recovered to become secondary raw material, proving circularity constitutes already a concrete reality.” Mr Falcioni divulged. Therefore, it is clear that once collected, a large amount of WEEE can be recovered and subsequently turned into secondary raw materials, making it a key priority to bridge the existing ‘circular gap’.

Capturing the missing two-thirds of electrical waste can be achieved through effective monitoring of waste flows and treatment. In this sense, the WEEE Directive has been a game-changer in contributing to increased visibility of undocumented e-waste and in laying the foundation for the creation of a waste market. “Enforcing recycling treatment standards would help with maximising recovery and combating the illegal disposal and export of WEEE,” explained Mr Falcioni, highlighting the importance of consistent implementation efforts by all actors in the waste chain. “Increased recycling treatment standards would also bring about improved knowledge on the quality and quantity of recovered secondary raw materials from WEEE,” he continued, reiterating how relevant capturing all WEEE generated is, to ultimately achieving the objectives set in the Directive. 

Without doubt, EU policy has a vital role to play in reaching circularity. APPLiA supports an EU Circular Economy Strategy that focuses on keeping markets open and cross-border trade for products flowing. “The establishment of a harmonised EU Single Market for waste would improve the way waste is handled across Europe today, generating  great economic incentives for all,whilst respecting environmental legislation,” detailed Mr Falcioni. The EU Plastics Strategy is also an important instrument which should drive the competitive European market for secondary raw materials. “There is already a very healthy market in Europe for recycled plastic materials which is growing steadily year after year.  Just as every other market, rules must apply in order for it to function properly. With this regard, it is key for legislation to set the scene and provide the right tools to all actors, for it to develop and stand on its own,” Mr Falcioni explained.  In this context, APPLiA is part of the European Commission’s Circular Plastics Alliance which aims to bring all actors together to develop the market for recycled plastic through dialogue and information sharing.

A collective effort is needed to transition towards a circular model which benefits the economy, environment and overall society. Combined efforts at both the policymaking and societal level are core to truly enhance circularity. “The successful implementation of policies at EU level, coupled with increased consumer awareness of WEEE collection and recycling via engaging communication campaigns, would result in the development of what we call a ‘Circular Culture’ translating into increased numbers of Europeans adopting a fully sustainable lifestyle,” concluded Mr Falcioni.