18 june 2014

The circular economy: less wastage, more added value

On the occasion of the first Circular Economy Conference, organised by ADEME (Agence De l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie – French Environment and Energy Management Agency) on 17th June, Antoine Frérot, CEO Managing Director of Veolia and sailor Ellen MacArthur, representing her Foundation, discuss this new economic model in the latest issue of Planet magazine. Considered by the President of the Republic to befundamental for France between now and 2025, the circular economy is essential faced with the challenges of protecting theenvironment, but should be seen first and foremost as an opportunity, they said in a joint interview. Extracts.




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Why is the circular economy so important for you or your company?

 
Ellen Mac Arthur
Ellen MacArthur / When I was sailing the oceans, it was essential for my survival to manage my resources as efficiently as possible. It’s the same on dry land: we are totally dependent on the finite resources we have available to us globally. This is why I wanted to focus my foundation’s work on a different way of looking at how we use resources.
We highlight the economic rationale for a move to a circular economy, different from our current linear “take - make – dispose” model, which allows resources to be in a continuous flow thus maintaining products components and materials at their highest value, and building the systems to allow the regeneration of natural assets.

 
Antoine Frérot portrait
Antoine Frérot / Over the next twenty years, the middle classes will grow from one to three billion people. This will cause unprecedented pressure on natural resources. This phenomenon requires innovations and a new way of thinking, working and consuming. We are being forced to call traditional concepts into question. We can and we should see this break with the past as an opportunity. It is a new direction that all industrialists and local authorities are going to have to take, and this won’t be limited to recycling or reusing waste. Veolia is ready and waiting to help its clients meet this challenge.



 

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Doesn’t the circular economy require a revolution? And is the economy as we know it today ready to change?

E. MA. / A circular economy is a move towards building material flows, both natural and industrial globally through rethinking our economic system, and the way resources are currently used. In this system, products are designed to be remanufactured, almost endlessly, for new uses, and if they become obsolete they have been designed for disassembly. The materials can therefore be recovered and made into the products of tomorrow. There is no doubt that, in the long term, the economy must change towards this as, our current ‘linear’ system is not viable.
I am optimistic when I see more and more companies, students or governments becoming aware of the opportunity of this move. They understand that the circular economy can become an incredible driver for growth and prosperity. This is demonstrated by the “Towards the circular economy” report that we produced  with analysis by McKinsey. Its conservative estimate is that the transition to a circular economy could generate over one thousand billion US dollars (or commonly used 1 trillion USD) in revenue in the form of material savings.

 

The European Union’s manufacturing sector could make net savings in material costs worth $630 billion by the year 2025. (McKinsey report for the MacArthur Foundation)

What is Veolia doing in concrete terms to create loops for recycling resources?

A. F./ As a global leader, we offer our clients approaches that loop material, water or energy cycles. In this respect, we have a responsibility, which we are assuming as our clients are asking us to assist them in this area. Information and education are essential if citizens are to embrace the circular economy’s policies. The challenge is to get them involved so that they play an active role in their consumption and environmental protection. A concrete example? In Brussels, we have developed a procedure using the sludge from wastewater treatment plants — for producing — bioplastics that meet plastic manufacturers’ quality standards. You should bear in mind that in Europe, out of the 25 million metric tons of plastics produced each year, only a quarter are recycled.
This is why our company is inventing technologies to recycle more. From the used plastics contained in waste electrical and electronic equipment, we manage to manufacture high-quality polymers with a 99% purity rate and at a lower cost than virgin material! (…)

 

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