The Flemish Government wants to turn Flanders into a circular frontrunner in Europe. This will be achieved by investing in circular innovation and reducing the material footprint of our consumption by 30% by 2030. To get an overview of the progress over the coming years, ministers Crevits and Demir are today launching the first Circular Economy Monitor for Flanders. The monitor brings together more than 100 indicators about the cycles in our economy and the impact on the environment.
Click on the image to open a larger version
With a circular economy, Flanders can achieve three things. We limit the environmental impact of our economy. We become less dependent on the import of expensive raw materials. And we create opportunities for technological and social innovation. There is also a strong link with the climate: after all, two thirds of our CO2 emissions are caused by the extraction, processing, consumption and recycling of materials.
But to know whether we are on the right track with that circular economy, and to make well-informed policy decisions, we need data. This is why Circular Flanders and the Circular Economy Policy Research Center, together with ministers Hilde Crevits and Zuhal Demir, are today launching the Circular Economy Monitor.
How circular is Flanders then?
21%. That’s the short answer to this question. The circularity figure calculates how much of the materials in our economy come from recycling and reuse. The larger this share, the more circular the economy is.
The long answer is of course more nuanced: the circularity of the Flemish economy cannot be summed up in one single number. This kind of figure is a bit too simplistic for something as complex as the economy. This is why the Circular Economy Monitor has taken a different approach: it provides a series of indicators for each area of our economy. More than 100 indicators in total.
High material consumption, less waste, more recycling
From the figures, we see that the Flemish economy is a big consumer of materials. However, 72% of these materials are re-exported after treatment by our companies. We keep 20 tonnes of materials per inhabitant for our own use.
Unfortunately, our total material footprint (a counterpart to the carbon footprint) continues to grow. Flanders has the goal to reverse this trend and by 2030 achieve a decrease of 30% compared to 2010.
Flanders does meet the mark on so-called decoupling when it comes to waste production: the amount of waste in households is decreasing, even though the household budget remains fairly constant. This is an absolute decoupling: there is a downward trend in absolute numbers. When it comes to companies, we see a relative decoupling: waste production is increasing less rapidly than the growth in economic activity (GDP). The trend is therefore (still) on the rise, but no longer at the same pace – the increase is slowing down. So companies seem increasingly successful in their fight against waste.
In recent decades, Flanders has firmly focused on the sorted collection of waste and the development of a recycling industry. This is reflected in the figures: we are seeing high recycling rates. Of the total amount of household waste (including construction and demolition waste), 67% goes to a recycling or composting facility. 68% of industrial waste is reused. This becomes 79% if we include the recycling and reuse of construction and demolition waste. The figure has increased by 10 percentage points in the last ten years.
From recycling to a circular economy
But this isn’t the end of the story, because a large proportion of that recycling is still low-grade recycling (converting building materials into grit to lay road foundations, for example). The challenge for Flanders is to (in addition to recycling) make so-called high-quality circular strategies more and more acceptable: less material use, extension of lifespan through maintenance and repair, ecodesign, reuse, innovative use of residual flows from agriculture and food... By doing this we can also use the recycled materials in high-quality applications. For example, building materials not just for grit but also really reusing them to make tiles. Or to start using biomass to make bio-based products like bioplastics or raw materials for chemistry, and in doing so become less dependent on fossil fuels.
The data on these high-quality strategies is still limited. Thanks to the research, what we do know is:
In Flanders, the total reuse of consumer goods (white goods, electrical appliances, household goods, textiles, furniture...) – whereby we do not recycle them (convert them into raw materials), but reuse them in their entirety – amounts to 34kg per inhabitant. In doing so, all together we give 224,000 tonnes of stuff a new home each year.
Employment in circular sectors or activities is increasing almost 3 times faster than the Flemish average.
Since 1995, the turnover of Flemish second-hand shops has grown significantly, from 1.1 to 61 million euros per year.
Just under 20% of companies reuse waste, residual or by-products for the same process. More than a quarter of companies ensure that their products can be easily repaired or recycled.
Thinking in stocks
What’s also interesting is that 71 million (85%) of the 84 million tonnes of materials we use each year, for activities other than energy production, remain in our economy one way or another. We call this ‘net additions to stock’. In concrete terms, the majority of materials will be found in the construction sector: we import building materials and ‘stock’ them for years in the form of a house or office building. These materials are therefore not lost and offer opportunities to close new cycles later on. For example, if we now start building in a more change-oriented or demountable way, the social stock we build up can pay off for our future economy. Against the increasing global competition for raw materials, good stock management is a strategic benefit.
Flanders tackles the challenge
Flemish Minister of Economy, Innovation, Work, Social Economy and Agriculture, Hilde Crevits, and Flemish Minister of Environment and Energy, Zuhal Demir, are joint guardians of the circular economy. The public-private partnership Flanders Circular is coordinating the efforts. Within this partnership, six thematic workstreams (construction, bioeconomy, chemistry/plastics, manufacturing industry, food and water cycles) focus on short-term concrete actions.
“Knowledge is power. That’s why we’re launching a scientific monitor for the circular economy in Flanders. The monitor shows that we’re heading in the right direction. There is a reason that EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans refers to Flanders as a pioneer of the circular economy! But there’s still more work to do for Flanders: we can reuse even more recycled materials to make new products. For example, the electronics in our smartphones. With the recovery plan, we are investing in the circular economy to bring things full circle.” - Flemish Minister for Economy and Innovation Hilde Crevits
Between 2019 and 2022, the Flemish Government will invest around 120 million euros in circular innovation. Flanders is also further investing in research and monitoring of its own performance with the monitor and a new Circular Economy Policy Research Center for the period 2022-2026.
The CE Center streamlines policy-relevant research on the circular economy in Flanders. The CE Center is part of Flanders Circular and brings together researchers from KU Leuven, UGent, the University of Antwerp and VITO. OVAM and the Department of Economics, Science and Innovation (EWI) jointly finance the CE Center.