What will circular economy mean to you?

The language used in the announcement from the Department of Environment on Tuesday evening was not the kind that made headlines when it spoke of a general plan, a circular economy and a “whole government” approach.

However, the Circular Economy Bill 2021, once it becomes law and comes into force, will change everything – the way a product is made, used and reused, and the way it is recycled. should be done.

By 2030, if it works, the average member of the Irish public will pay tribute to the circular economy by regularly buying products that can be reused and repaired, and no waste when they expire. do not leave.

According to Dr Sarah Miller, chief executive of the Rediscovery Center in Ballymun, Dublin, “our relationships with products and services will be unrecognizable in 10 years.” The definition of “consumer” will become a thing of the past.

“From product owner, we will become ‘product custodians’ as leasing, sharing and rental models go mainstream,” she says, predicting that there will be an explosion in resale of products. Second hand will be normal.

Second-hand clothing will replace fast fashion – not only on the high street, but online as well, she predicts: “The store will be used for resale, repair, rental, refill and recovery of materials for products, food and technology.” will be done for.”

High-street stores, online retailers and manufacturers must invest in “reverse logistics,” where products can be returned to the original for reuse, while also removing every other element of waste in the production cycle. is.

carrot and stick

Recycling experts argue that the change will not be about mass conversion by the public to a green agenda. Instead, it will be a combination of carrot and stick.

Fines, duties and outright bans on polluting products will cost more. It would be, its promoters say, just as a carbon tax would wean us away from fossil fuels.

The cheaper option should become the most eco-friendly option.

There is no point that it will be easy politically, because it will not happen. it will be hard.

However, the terms “circular economy” mean little to the public. Half of the members of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation believe it doesn’t make sense to them.

However, the core messages are clear. Currently, the world’s population – mostly the wealthy parts, which includes Ireland – is using 50 percent more natural resources each year than the Earth produces.

Based on what we know now, this will triple by 2050, even with all the talk of companies about the green agenda. Hence the “Take, Make, Dispose” approach must end. Likewise, the habits of quickly disposed products and the export of huge amounts of “waste” are driven by poor recycling infrastructure. Instead, all of these have to be replaced with refill services from zero-waste stores.

Today’s record of the state is amazing. Every year, we generate more than 1 million tons of food waste, resulting in a carbon bill, alone, of 3.6 million tons of CO2.

Once created, the circular economy will break the link between economic growth and environmental degradation, says Fine Gail TD Richard Bruton, who wrote a report on the circular economy for the Committee on Climate Action.

With some confusion about the difficulties it faces for politicians, Bruton says: “It wants to completely rethink supply chains on this basis. We have to rethink how we take products from the cradle to its grave. How to make and use

Government legislation will attempt to tie together waste and climate plans; National development plan, EU waste directive, state’s own buying habits.


The European Union now recognizes that climate change and sustainability goals cannot be met without a circular economy. In particular, the crisis arising out of the entry of plastic pollution into the human and animal food chains has to be tackled.

So what could this mean for people’s daily lives? First imagine the simple things. Disposable plastics, such as coffee cups, will disappear. Shopping habits will be changed beyond recognition. Home-delivered takeaway will come in reusable containers and the food will be collected by the outlet.

Homes will have to significantly improve the segregation of waste – currently not a third of the waste dumped in green bins, while only a third of the plastic used in products can be recycled.

Every supermarket will stop selling products in plastic wrapping. Customers will bring reusable containers for fruits and vegetables, even cleaning agents, just as we are now used to having reusable shopping bags.

Plastic bottles and aluminum cans will be collected by a deposit return system for recycling and reuse, while “recycle centers” will encourage reuse. Companies making office fittings in second hand furniture will become common.

Rigorous fees will prevent waste from being sent for incineration, while companies that make things like mattresses, paints or textiles will become responsible for them when such products reach the end of their useful lives.

Some good things are already happening. The rest is “doable”, says Mindy O’Brien, of the Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment, if the state taxes the bad, encourages the good and supports the public’s right to reuse.

Some good examples can be copied, she says. Italy has a tax on virgin plastic used for packaging that promotes recycled plastics, and Germany has a container refill target of 70 percent, she says.

They argue that waste should be “designed out”, which contains so-called “forever chemicals”, such as PFAS used by food manufacturers to create a waterproof and greaseproof barrier when combined with paper or cardboard. is.

Samus Clancy, chief executive of Repack recycling company, says the state has some advantages because it has solid data about waste because it is the only EU country to have a chip-and-PIN, pay-by-weight system for households. .

“We have to reduce consumption and do things better with the resources we have,” he says, although the state is part of a small island that doesn’t have economies of scale.

Companies will quickly learn that green means brass, says reuse expert Dr. Miller, who says washing machine manufacturers will charge a wash to retain ownership of the product, but also the responsibility for its reuse. Will take

This will save the customer money, as maintenance, repair and replacement will be the responsibility of the manufacturer, thus encouraging them to manufacture products that last. The underlying obsolescence itself will become obsolete.

“These models will create additional jobs locally in electronic repair and maintenance,” says Miller, “instead of just going to stores to shop, people will go to the high street to rent, repair and reuse.”

“Instead of just visiting homes to drop off products, logistics companies will packaging and collect items that were rented out or in need of repair,” she adds.

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