What is a circular economy?
In principal, one could say that recycling and circular economy mean the same concept. Both are about minimizing waste by reusing packaging, products, or raw materials in general. But the circular economy takes recycling a step further, as in a truly circular economy waste is completely avoided. The circular economy is therefore in a perfect cycle with nature.
The following video of the Ellen McArthur Foundation sums up the concept of a circular economy and gives a good overview:
Sustainability in e-commerce often focuses one-sidedly on production and logistics. What comes after a product’s lifecycle is often being neglected.
Out of sight, out of mind? True to the motto: once it’s with the customer, it’s none of our business. This goes for products just as much as for packaging. Unrecyclable packaging is still commonly used. Especially a lot of plastic packaging cannot be recycled with current recycling technology standards. It instead often ends up being exported or being burned for energy.
Are you using plastic packaging as well? With this tool you can easily check whether your plastic packaging is recyclable or not.
But it is not only about packaging. The products themselves end up as waste at some point as well and are often not completely recyclable. According to the 2019 Circularity Gap Report, only 9% of the current global economy is circular – with a downward trend even. Quite a terrifying prospect, in our opinion.
A rethinking has already begun, but many e-commerce businesses are still not doing enough.
Although many e-commerce retailers are starting to get rid of plastic packaging and beginning to use paper-based and other biodegradable packaging alternatives, many are still ignoring their obligations to join recycling schemes. Especially transport packaging usually uses a lot of raw material, as it must be very damage-resistant to protect the contained products. E-commerce therefore plays a major role in the generation of packaging waste. Thus, it is even more important that online retailers license their packaging to ensure the financial basis for Europe’s recycling schemes. Sufficient funding of the recycling schemes will be crucial for the transformation towards a circular economy.
Regarding electronic goods and batteries (WEEE), a recent OECD report has also criticized that many online retailers are not fulfilling their compliance obligations for recycling yet.
The EU on its way towards a circular economy: The EU circular economy package
The EU has made it its mission to completely transform into a circular economy as soon as possible. Therefore, the EU circular economy package contains several measures to reach this ambitious goal. Among these measures is the step-by-step increase of binding recycling-rates for all member states as well as the requirement to design all plastics recyclable by 2030. Online retailers can also expect changes in their recycling compliance requirements. For instance, starting from the previous year, many recycling schemes have adjusted their fees for plastics to the increased quotas. The Swedish and Bulgarian governments are debating on measures to stronger include foreign e-commerce business in the financing of packaging recycling. Meanwhile, Finland is questioning exemptions for small producers and online retailers. And new regulations to better control the fulfillment of legal obligations by e-commerce businesses are also in the focus. Keyword: EU market surveillance regulation.