In April of this year the Government announced new grants for Circular Economy Innovation. The circular economy is now part of our strategy for economic recovery, vital after the devastation of Covid.
In conjunction the Government published a draft national strategy for Ireland to transition to a circular economy, and the Environmental Protection Agency published a new Circular Economy Programme, to update the old National Waste Prevention Programme.
At the launch Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said: “The Circular Economy is built around doing more with less, or consuming fewer material resources to sustain our communities, homes and economy. The model builds on sharing, reusing and reinventing materials to meet our needs and replaces the current ‘take, make, dispose’ model.”
He said that the new programme will lead to many opportunities, including reducing waste, shrinking our carbon footprint, supporting local and regional economic development, growing new business models, and providing skilled employment opportunities.
The circular economy is here to stay. Now it is a choice to get on board. Eventually, to use the hackneyed phrase, it will become ‘the new normal’. The opportunity is here to get ahead of the curve and lead the way.
The government wants to support and implement measures that reduce Ireland’s circularity gap, particularly in comparison with other EU member states. According to Minister Ryan, we want to be ahead of the European average by 2030, just nine years time. This will involve all levels of society playing their part, and will need an awareness campaign among households, businesses and individuals about how the circular economy works, and how it improves lives. Regulatory barriers to circular development will be removed, and local and regional circular initiatives will be supported.
The new Circular Economy Innovation Grant Scheme (CEIGS) is one of the key supports. It is open to social enterprises, voluntary and community organisations, and businesses with less than 50 employees, with a quarter of a million to be dispersed in the first year. Maximum grants of E50,000 will be awarded.
Areas the government wants to see applications include plastics, construction and demolition waste, food waste, and resources and raw materials, such as electrical and electronic equipment, textiles and furniture, all of which can be recycled or reused. The sort of innovation they are looking for is the redesign of packaging to replace single use plastic with recyclable plastic, and circular construction products. These are products that can be reused, or that have a far longer lifespan than what they replace.
The government is also encouraging selective green demolition, to remove hazardous materials and facilitate reuse and recycling. They want to promote innovative waste prevention in the food industry, and to reduce food waste in commercial settings. They also want to reduce the amount of hazardous substances used in materials and products, and to increase recovery of critical raw materials.
It is an ambitious plan that could allow Ireland to lead the EU towards a more sustainable future.
Circular Economy and Sustainability
By now most are familiar, if only slightly, with the concept of a circular economy. The linear economy took raw materials, turned them into products, and the waste was disposed of through incineration or landfill. The circular approach uses recovered raw materials where possible, and uses manufacturing processes which reduce or eliminate waste (through reuse and recycling among other approaches). The idea of the circular economy is that the inevitable waste produced during manufacture goes back into the process rather than being dumped. This reduces pollution and waste, but also reduces the costs of raw materials.
“The circular economy is perceived as a sustainable economic system where the economic growth is decoupled from the resources used, through the reduction and recirculation of natural resources,” according to an article in Resources, Conservation and Recycling, issue 151 (2019).
The article points out that reducing resources used can result in economic gains, but it is important this is managed carefully. The effort to go green cannot be so expensive as to be self-defeating. Circular only becomes sustainable if actual savings are made. But it is an important first step towards sustainability.
“The circular economy concept attracts increasing attention of governments, scholars, companies and citizens as a necessary step to achieve sustainable development.”
By using things for longer, and getting more than one use out of our raw materials, we move towards a more sustainable economy.
Circular Economy EU
In March 2020 the EU adopted the new Circular Economy Action Plan, one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal, Europe’s strategy for sustainable growth. The EU believes a transition to a circular economy will reduce pressure on natural resources and will create sustainable growth and jobs. It will also help the EU achieve their 2050 climate neutrality target.
The action plan targets how products are designed, promotes circular economic processes, encourages sustainable consumption, and aims to ensure that waste is prevented, and the resources used are kept in circulation as long as possible.
It aims to make sustainable products the norm throughout the EU.
Circular Economy Action Plan Ireland
Ireland is completely on board with the EU objectives, and last September published a waste action plan to move us towards sustainability. According to the government statement it is: “Ireland’s new roadmap for waste planning and management. We need to embed climate action in all strands of public policy. This plan shifts focus away from waste disposal and looks instead to how we can preserve resources by creating a circular economy.”
It is the government’s role to produce lofty plans, and to support those with legislation and financial aid. But really the onus is on individuals, companies and organisations to make those plans a reality. All that the plans actually mean is that once you make the decision to go circular, and to improve your sustainability, the supports will be there to make it possible. You still need to do the work.
That is where the help of an expert becomes invaluable. At CEC we are very excited to be at the cutting edge of this new wave of economic development. We have helped many companies locally and regionally to take great steps forward. Zero waste to landfill, reduced costs, and increased efficiencies can all be achieved in far less time than you might think. And now the government is offering grants for this vital work.