In a Circular Economy, resource use, emissions and waste are minimized by transforming linear supply chains - which inevitably end with discarding used products - into closed loops, giving used products a long or “second life”.
This can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance and repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling. The circular economy aims at reinventing whole industry sectors, making them at the same time more environmentally sustainable and competitive.
Synthos embraces the circular economy as an opportunity and has made important contributions to the progressing circularity of its materials. Synthos is constantly working together with all relevant stakeholders to ensure the best possible progress of the circular economy.
We will achieve this transformation together by having regard to the function and impact of each product over its full life cycle – from its raw material through processing, manufacturing, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling.
Synthos’ products have the necessary properties to enable recycling and “closing the loop”. In particular, expanded polystyrene (EPS) and extruded polystyrene (XPS) products are easily recognizable and separable.
The Circular Economy philosophy aims at transforming and modernizing European industries based on linear business models (“take-make-consume-throw away” pattern) towards circular ones, where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained as long as possible, and waste generation is minimized. The new circular European economy aims at becoming more environmentally sustainable as well as competitive – no easy feat for all stakeholders involved.
In December 2015, the European Commission put forward a Circular Economy Package that includes ambitious legislative proposals that are currently under discussion. They cover the general legal framework for waste and packaging and packaging waste specifically, amongst other things, with long-term targets to reduce landfilling and increase reuse and recycling rates. The proposals also cover plastics, for instance in the context of the separate collection of plastic waste and setting recycling targets for municipal waste and plastic packaging.
The 2015 Action Plan for a circular economy announced at the same time the development of a new strategy to addresses the challenges posed by plastics throughout the value chain. The new plastic strategy focuses on the entire life cycle of plastics, such as reuse, recyclability, biodegradability, and the presence of hazardous substances of concerns in certain plastics and marine litter.
In January 2017, the European Commission published a roadmap outlining its views and preparations for the new Strategy on Plastics in a Circular Economy. The new strategy is expected in January 2018 and may be accompanied or followed by various guidance documents, including legislative and non-legislative proposals.
The new EU Strategy on Plastics will address three main issues:
- the high dependence on virgin fossil feedstock,
- the low rate of recycling and reuse of plastics, and
- the significant leakage of plastics into the environment.
Synthos has supported the objectives of the future EU Plastic Strategy from the outset and has been actively engaging with policymakers in order to hold this debate in a careful, balanced and facts-based manner.
Not just the recyclability of certain materials are important but also the environmental impact associated with all stages of a product's life cycle - from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacturing, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling.
Synthos’ products have the necessary properties to enable recycling and “closing the loop”. In particular, expanded polystyrene (EPS) and extruded polystyrene (XPS) products are easily recognizable and separable.
Synthos supports the development of innovative technical solutions to drive polystyrene recycling sustainably, such as the PolyStyreneLoop project.
Synthos believes that voluntary industry commitment and cooperation along the supply chain can drive the development of a circular economy. Synthos and other industry players have joined forces to build a technically, economically and environmentally sustainable closed-loop recycling system for polystyrene foams.
The PolyStyreneLoop project is an innovative solution that recycles polystyrene foams used in construction applications through an innovative dissolution technique. This allows for the removal of legacy additives contained in certain polystyrene foams, delivering high-quality polystyrene recyclates.
The European Commission supports this project through its LIFE project and considers it an “…essential contribution to the EU’s efforts to develop a sustainable, low carbon, resource efficient and competitive economy. It ticks all the boxes of the circular economy.”
This strong support allows the EPS industry to start building a commercial-scale demonstration plant in Terneuzen in the Netherlands in 2018.
The EU and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP or ‘UN Environment’) see the EU Plastics Strategy as one specific example of the role of the Circular Economy in the transition "Towards a Pollution-Free Planet", and a contribution to specific targets associated with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These targets include promoting sound chemicals management, reducing waste and pollution of the environment.
More broadly, according to UNEP, the circular economy presents new and unprecedented opportunities to create wealth and well-being. It perceives the circular economy as “the essential engine behind achieving the ambitious UN Agenda 2030and Sustainable Development Goals” included in that Agenda. UNEP is committed to working with all concerned parties to support the achievement of the 17 UN SDGs. It promotes environmental sustainability as a crucial enabling factor in implementing the SDGs. It aims to ensure that the environment is integrated into all aspects of sustainable development.
The circular economy is particularly important for three goals:
- Goal 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure – Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation;
- Goal 12: Sustainable consumption and production;
- Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals – Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
Depending on which specific issue is addressed within the broad concept of a circular economy, it is also relevant for other goals, such as Goal 14: Life below water – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, in the context of marine litter.
Sustainable Development is a comprehensive concept with multiple meanings that attempts to reconcile three dimensions of development: economic, environmental and social. It ties in with Circular Economy through the economic and environmental dimensions, as well as through Corporate Social Responsibility, business’ entryway into Sustainable Development.
Ecological Transition is a multi-faceted concept, which encompasses theory, discourse and implementation. It is used by governments (e.g. in France) to describe a multi-stakeholder process meant to direct society towards an economic development compatible with planetary limits.
Ecological Economics is an interdisciplinary framework that seeks to merge the two historically separate fields of economics and ecology.
It assumes that: 1) there is an inherent link between the health of the Earth’s ecosystem and the economic system created by human beings; 2) the economy is a subsystem of the earth’s ecological system; and 3) by understanding how each system flows into and out of the other, each can thrive and prosper.
Ecological Economics differs from Environmental Economics in that it places macroeconomics within the sphere of the earth’s ecosystem, whereas Environmental Economics sees the two as distinct.
Green Economy & Green Tech
Green Economy is a concept that proposes economic solutions to mostly environmental issues through large policy proposals with multiple elements. Green Economy is closely connected with Green Tech. That latter term is used to describe a collection of modern technologies and approaches that maximize human, environmental, and economic benefits. Specifically, Green Tech utilizes advancements of modern environmental science, biotechnology and engineering to provide products and services in a way that least degrades natural resources, and in some cases, regenerates them.
Common examples of Green Tech include materials recycling, utilization of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources for power, biological water treatment, grey water recycling, biofuels and energy-conserving electronics.
The Functional Economy is a concept spearheaded by Walter R. Stahel, a Swiss architect. It optimizes the use (or function) of goods and services and thus the management of existing wealth (goods, knowledge and nature). The economic objective of the functional economy is to create the highest possible use value for the longest possible time while consuming as few material resources and energy as possible. This functional economy is therefore considerably more sustainable or dematerialized than the present economy which is focused on production and related material flows as its principal means to create wealth.
Life Cycle Thinking
Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) is closely connected to Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Life Cycle Management (LCM). Its main goal is to reduce environmental impacts through a methodology based on eco-efficiency, which looks at each step of the product, process or service’s life cycle in order to design or redesign these with less embedded impacts. There are few standards yet in measuring and assessing these impacts, but a Life Cycle Analysis is usually wider in scope than similar assessments, such as the Environmental Risk Assessment and the Substance Flow Analysis. This includes an analysis and inventory of all parts, materials, and energy, and their impacts in the manufacturing of a product but usually does not include social impacts. ISO 14040 is one internationally standardized LCA methodology. However, the concept of life cycle thinking however has no formal definition in EU law, making its application and relevance open to interpretation.
The term Cradle-to-Cradle Thinking was invented by Walter R. Stahel in the 1970s. It was popularized and commercialized by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their 2002 book of the same title. The concept is perhaps the main conceptual pillar of Circular Economy. This framework seeks to create production techniques that are not just efficient but are essentially waste free. In cradle-to-cradle production, all material inputs and outputs are seen either as technical or biological nutrients. Technical nutrients can be recycled or reused with no loss of quality and biological nutrients composted or consumed.
Shared Value is a management approach that was developed by strategy experts Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in order to reconcile capitalism with societal needs. It calls upon industry to create value by identifying and addressing social needs through new products and markets, redefined value chains and the creation of community development clusters.
Suren Erkman is the father of this concept, and the research and application field that focuses on the creation and maintenance of a closed loop industrial ecosystem. Industrial Ecology aims at optimizing energy and materials, pollution and waste reduction through an economically viable transformation of industrial by-products or waste into inputs, with the ultimate goal of enabling industrial systems that mimic natural ecosystems.
Industrial Symbiosis, Sustainable Consumption and Dematerializationareattempts to further develop this theory. Dematerialisation stands for using less or no material to deliver the same level of functionality to the user. It includes improving the use of materials or shifting from products to services. As for the improved materials use, there are two main solutions to apply this philosophy to waste material: avoiding the products or purchasing long lasting products.
In the field of Industrial Ecology, Lean Manufacturing is used as an operational tool that aims to continuously and iteratively eliminate waste through improved production processes. Lean manufacturing is an evolution of the Toyota Production System.
Extended Producer Responsibility
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is an implementation of the ‘polluter pays’ principle and aims at shifting a product’s environmental responsibility over the full life cycle back towards the producer. Even though EPR has the potential to drive change over the full life cycle, it has mostly enabled postconsumer end-of-life management.
The concept of Ecodesign is based on integrating environmental aspects into product development. Ecodesign can be used as a tool to implement Life Cycle Assessment results, it can be a guideline, a checklist, or an analytical tool that supports a product development process based on eco-efficiency.
Related to Ecodesign is Design for Environment, a process used in many industries to help organizations improve the environmental impact of their products and services throughout the development process. Each industry approaches this process differently and there are few standards. In addition, for small manufacturers, this is often seen as a time-consuming and expensive additional cost. This is still a new process for most designers and engineers but it is slowly growing.
Product–service systems (described by Arnold Tukker) are seen as an excellent means for implementing sustainable solutions. They consist of tangible products and intangible services designed and combined so that they jointly are capable of fulfilling specific customer needs with the aim of environment-friendly outcomes.
Sharing Economy is an umbrella term with a range of meanings. The concept focuses on reducing negative environmental impacts through decreasing the amount of goods needed to be produced, cutting down on industry pollution (such as reducing the carbon footprint and overall consumption of resources). It is trying to reshape our perception of waste stating that much of what we define as waste still has value that, with proper design and distribution, can safely serve as "nutrients" for follow-on processes, unlocking new levels of value in increasingly scarce and expensive resources.
Sharing economy is developing circulation systems i.e. product-service systems. The other similar theory developed in similar scope is called Waste‐2‐resources.
Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. It is a vision that calls for integration of economic development, social equity, and environmental protection. It is development that puts people at the center and that is just, equitable and inclusive. Poverty eradication, promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production, and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development are essential requirements for sustainable development. Democracy, good governance and the rule of law at all levels create an enabling environment for sustainable development. A sustainably managed environment is a prerequisite for socio-economic development and poverty reduction. Therefore, environment constitutes one of the three interrelated pillars of sustainable development.
Adopted in September 2015, the 2030 Agenda represents “a universal, integrated and transformative vision for a better world” (Ban Ki Moon). It is the “world's growth strategy for the next 15 years” (Achim Steiner). The 2030 Agenda includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 associated targets that will guide decisions and actions until 2030. The 17 SDGs are integrated and indivisible, and balance environmental, social and economic concerns.
The concept of the SDGs was agreed at the Rio+20 Summit (United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development) in 2012 building on previous commitments, such as the Millennium Development Goals.
According to UNEP, more than half of the SDGs have an environmental focus or address sustainability concerns, while over 86 of the 169 targets directly concern the environment – including at least one in each of the 17 SDGs. No single goal can progress significantly without particular attention to the implementation of the environmental dimension.
Some of the milestones in developing the SDGs since the creation of UNEP as the leading environmental authority responsible for setting the global environmental agenda are outlined below.
At the UN Environment Assembly in December 2017, the world's highest-level decision-making body on the environment, environment ministers issued a declaration “Towards a pollution‑free planet”. That declaration said nations would honor efforts to prevent, mitigate and manage the pollution of air, land and soil, freshwater, and oceans, specifically referring to plastic waste in oceans.
The high-level United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development was held in New York in June 2017, coinciding with World Oceans Day, to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14. The Conference aimed to be the game changer that would reverse the decline in the health of the oceans for people, planet and prosperity.
In February 2017, UNEP launched an unprecedented global campaign to eliminate major sources of marine litter: microplastics in cosmetics and the excessive, wasteful usage of single-use plastic by the year 2022.
Heads of State and Government meeting in New York from 25-27 September 2015 decided on new global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs and targets are integrated and indivisible, global in nature and universally applicable, taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities. Targets are defined as aspirational and global, with each government setting its own national targets guided by the global level of ambition but taking into account national circumstances. Each government will also decide how these aspirational and global targets should be incorporated in national planning processes, policies and strategies. It is important to recognize the link between sustainable development and other relevant ongoing processes in the economic, social and environmental fields. SDG 8 in particular aims at promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
With the adoption of “Future We Want”, the outcome document of the Rio +20 conference, held from 20 to 22 June 2012, United Nations Member States decided “to establish a universal intergovernmental high-level political forum, building on the strengths, experiences, resources and inclusive participation modalities of the Commission on Sustainable Development, and subsequently replacing the Commission. The high-level political forum shall follow up on the implementation of sustainable development […].”
The High-level Political Forum on sustainable development is today the main United Nations platform on sustainable development. It provides political leadership, guidance and recommendations. It follows up and reviews the implementation of sustainable development commitments and, as of 2016, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development - or Rio+20 - took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 20-22 June 2012. Member States decided to launch a process to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were to build upon the Millennium Development Goals and converge with the post-2015 development agenda.
The "Marrakech Process"
In the framework of the 10-year review of the Barbados Programme of Action (BPOA), the General Assembly mandated the organization of the high level Mauritius International Meeting. Held at the beginning of 2005, the meeting produced the Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation of the BPOA. Aware of the challenges still faced by SIDS in the implementation of the programme, especially limited financial resources and the reduction in the official development assistance, the document listed a set of 19 priorities areas.
Apart from the 14 BPOA thematic areas, the other 5 were graduation from least developed country status, trade, sustainable production and consumption (as called for by the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI)), health, knowledge management, and culture.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg in 2002, brought together tens of thousands of participants, including heads of State and Government, national delegates and leaders from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), businesses and other major groups to focus the world's attention and direct action toward meeting difficult challenges, including improving people's lives and conserving our natural resources in a world that is growing in population, with ever-increasing demands for food, water, shelter, sanitation, energy, health services and economic security.
The State of Progress and Initiatives for the Future Implementation of the Program of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Development States (SIDS), adopted by the 22nd United nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) held in September 1999, aimed at reviewing and appraising the implementation of the BPOA and in this context highlighted six problem areas requiring urgent action. The identified areas were respectively: climate change, natural and environmental disasters and climate variability, freshwater resources, coastal and marine resources, energy and tourism.
The Special Session also focused on the strategies to be adopted for the BPOA implementation and in particular on resource mobilization and finance, sustainable development strategies, resource development, capacity building, globalization and trade liberalization, transfer of environmentally sounded technology; a vulnerability index; information management through strengthening the SIDS Network; and international cooperation and partnership.
At the United nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS-19) in June 1997 delegates reviewed the progress undergone on Agenda 21 and agreed on the adoption of the Program for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21. The Program appraised progress since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), examined implementation and defined the work program of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) for the period 1998-2002. For the CSD’s subsequent four sessions, poverty and consumption and production patterns were identified as dominant issues for each year by the work program.
Start of Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD)
Considered as the high-level forum for sustainable development within the UN System, the Commission was designed by the General Assembly to follow–up on the progress in implementation of the UN Earth Summit and on the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation at international, regional and local level.
"As main outcome of the Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio in 1992, Agenda 21 calls for a global partnership able to address the problems of the present and prepare the International Community for the challenges of the upcoming century.
Bearing in mind the perpetuation of disparities laying between and within nations, the worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which humanity depends for their well-being, Agenda 21 identifies integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them as leading factors for the fulfillment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems".
In December 1983, the General Assembly welcomed the establishment of a special commission, later known as the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) working on a report on environment and proposed strategies for sustainable development.
Considered as the first major conference of the United Nations on international environmental issues, the conference marked a turning point in the development of international environmental politics. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) was created as a result of the conference.