A circular economy is about more than recycling. It is an economic system in which we maintain the complexity and functionality of a product for as long as possible, instead of breaking a product down to its base materials, incinerating it or dumping it as waste, once it has been used. A circular economy is based on closed material loops, which means that as little material as possible leaves the loop through incineration or landfill and only a minimal amount of new raw materials needs to be added.

Research manager Sustainable Materials
+32 14 33 58 92

Why is a circular economy important?

  • Raw materials are becoming scarcer and our natural resources are being depleted.
  • Demand is increasing for raw materials that are not available in our region, making us dependent on other countries.
  • It offers new opportunities to businesses.
  • It helps to improve Europe's competitive position in the world.
  • It has a positive impact on climate and environment.

How do we achieve the circular economy?

The transition to a circular economy requires a system change in which governments, manufacturers, consumers, and financial institutions each play an important role. In addition, technologies help us to achieve the circular objectives.

A system change

In a systemic change, every layer of society is involved. The government must create the conditions in which a circular economy can develop. Companies need to rethink their product design and the way in which they offer their products, while financial institutions need to take account of the new risks and investment needs of companies. Consumers need to embrace a new form of product use: not everything needs to be owned, products can also be used and returned. In order to make good choices and bring the transition up to speed, it is also important that all these stakeholders and knowledge institutions work together closely.

Technologies

The following digital technologies can be used to boost the circular economy:

  • Sensors and technologies to improve and automate the collection and sorting of waste and material streams.
  • Virtual production processes that allow us to deliver a first real-world product straight away that meets the requirements, without a material-consuming pre-production phase.
  • Technologies such as 3D printing that facilitate circular design and modular construction, which is necessary for easy disassembly and repair.
  • Digital applications that allow us to share products, such as sharing platforms.
  • Blockchain technology that allows us to share information about the life-cycle and value chain of products.