‘Waste not, want not’ – European Union goes circular

Billions of euros of profit, millions of new jobs, increased resource productivity and reduced use of materials. For the European Union, the European Commission’s “Circular Economy Action Plan,” is turning out to be a virtuous cycle for people, prosperity and the planet. It is one of the 600 projects listed in a database of good practices for the SDGs created by UN DESA in the hope that it can be replicated elsewhere.

In its simplest form, circular economy argues for minimizing waste and maximizing the use of natural resources. It is an alternative to the traditional, linear economy, in which we extract great quantities of natural resources to make products that we often just use once only to discard them to a landfill.

The European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan includes 54 actions covering the whole cycle of materials and products – from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials. Since its inception in 2015, it has already delivered 90 per cent of the planned actions and is expected to be fully implemented by the end of this year.

The results achieved in these four years speak for themselves. The transition to a circular economy has contributed to putting the EU back on a path of job creation. In 2016, four million people were employed in sectors related to the circular economy with even more jobs expected to be created. Circular activities, such as repair, reuse or recycling, generated almost €147 billion of revenue and €17.5 billion worth of investments.

The action plan’s legacy goes far beyond the immediate economic and social gains. By proving that circularity was not only the right thing to do, but also the smart and profitable way to go, it has become a policy standard. In 2015, only one Member State of the EU had a national circular economy strategy or  roadmap. Today, the majority of the bloc’s 28 countries already have their strategies in place or are preparing to adopt it.

With the latest numbers showing that humanity continues to consume more and more natural resources each year, the Circular Economy Action Plan shines as a bright example that a different way is not only possible, but that it is also economically and socially sound. This is what makes the action plan a good practice for the Sustainable Development Goals and an example to follow.

What are the inspiring breakthroughs and success stories that illustrate SDG implementation? What are the good practices that can be replicated and scaled up? What are the gaps and constraints and how should we address them? Looking ahead, what steps should we take to accelerate progress? To help answer these and other questions, UN DESA gathered more than 600 good SDG practices in a searchable online database. Be inspired by SDG solutions that work:

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