The transition to a circular economy will require changes in the way we live our lives. It will create new patterns of interaction between people, and change the way that we produce, own, use and re-use products. Together with our partners, the industry and governments we want to be the driver of this transition in Flanders and Europe.

Product design

Product design is key to enabling circularity. A circular economy needs durable products that can be repaired, reused, remanufactured and recycled, while using fewer and less scarce materials. Take “Design-for-repair” and “Design-for-recycling” for instance: two design strategies that aim to integrate circular economy principles at the early stages of product design. An alternative angle is to maximise the functionality of materials, and where possible, switch to other materials that are less scarce or have less environmental impact, while performing a similar function. Some products can even be dematerialised and sold as a service instead, for example streaming of music. As an organization we explore new and sustainable materials that enable designers and manufacturers to develop circular value chains.

New business models

The circular economy needs new business models in order to translate circular strategies into competitive advantages, company resilience and successful revenue models. Current business models focus on product sales, which makes it challenging to integrate prolonged use and reuse in the market approach. So how do you create value for your customers while using fewer materials and conservingresources? And how do you deliver this value if not through conventional sales? These are some of the issues that we are trying to address.

New technologies

New technologies can accelerate the transition to a circular economy. We view technology broadly in this context: new production processes, new recycled and bio-based products, refined sorting systems, digital platforms that convert products into services, etc. As long as they have a positive impact on the transition to a circular economy, we help their development and support them.

Policy context

Government policy needs to be adapted to support circular economy. Current policies are still rooted in waste management, but in a circular economy the very notion of ‘waste’ is phased out, as products are designed to prevent waste, and residues are transformed into new resources. Waste policies and product policies become intertwined, and resulting new policies need to facilitate circular material flows, and support the creation of circular businesses. It goes without saying that we believe governments have a key role to play in creating the right context for circularity.

Focus on collaboration

In order to achieve true systemic change, the initiatives – which are often still local – have to be scaled up and we definitely need to demonstrate new processes and business models on an industrial scale. This is only possible if all the players collaborate: the industry, civil society, research institutions and authorities. To ensure that the change is as fast as possible, we must exchange ideas, have an open debate and make sure that we are not satisfied with just the first small step. Together with our partners, we want to be the driving force of this collaboration by developing and sharing new ideas, and by bringing together the various parties associated with these ideas.

Flanders circular in 2050

The ultimate goal is to evolve into a circular economy. In Flanders, we are aiming to achieve this by 2050. Together with Vlaanderen Circulair, we are doing everything we can to achieve this by supporting and challenging businesses and authorities as much as possible.

Research manager Sustainable Materials