The reports describe what a circular economy looks like for electronics, textiles, food, plastics, and capital equipment.
They highlight the impact on people and the planet if those objectives were to be achieved, the barriers that stand to hinder implementation, and actions that can optimize the sector’s transition towards a more circular economy.
The reports point to trade as a catalyst for the transition to circularity.
The Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) Secretariat has released five publications that outline how the electronics, textiles, food, plastics, and capital equipment sectors can increase their circularity. Comprising the ‘Circular Economy Action Agenda,’ the reports serve as a rallying call for businesses, governments, researchers, consumers, and civil society to work together.
Each publication outlines the objective for a circular economy and what circularity in that particular sector looks like, the impact on people and the planet if those objectives were to be achieved, the barriers that stand to hinder implementation, and actions that can optimize the sector’s transition towards a more circular economy.
The report, ‘Circular Economy Action Agenda: Electronics,’ authored in partnership with Accenture, notes that less than 20% of electronics are collected and recycled, despite the raw materials within e-waste being valued at approximately USD 57 billion per year. A circular economy for electronics, the report explains, would see products use more recycled and recyclable content, designed for longevity and collected for recycling when they are no longer suitable for use. However, barriers include, inter alia, production systems that depend on virgin materials, lack of industry-wide standards for circular design and inconsistent regulatory regimes, and lack of knowledge on the hazards wrought by e-waste.
The report’s ten calls to action to accelerate the transition to a circular economy for electronics include, inter alia, incentives for designing circular products, enabling easier sourcing of recycled content, increasing market demand for circular products and services, setting up effective collection systems, and encouraging customers to take back their electronics once they are no longer useable. For each call to action, as also done in the other four publications, the report outlines where governments, financial services institutions, consumers, and civil society actors can start.
Of note is a cross-cutting call to action to enable efficiency and transparency in compliance and responsible transboundary movement. It cites the relevance of the Basel Convention, which prohibits illegal trade and dumping of hazardous waste as end-of-life electronics are often classified. PACE recommends that competent authorities to the Basel Convention team up with trade ministries, private sector actors, and standard-setting institutions to develop certifications and “green lanes” for environmentally sound management of e-waste.
Used textiles trade should be managed with targeted efforts to ensure environmental benefits.
The report, ‘Circular Economy Action Agenda for Textiles,’ also produced with Accenture, flags that people throw away apparel worth an estimated USD 460 billion each year, and that the textiles industry consumes roughly 215 trillion liters of water annually. Recycling textile waste, the report notes, can unlock up to USD 100 billion per year, as well as natural resource and chemical use reductions.
The report envisions a future where inputs for textiles are safe, recycled, or renewable; where textiles are kept in use for longer; and where textiles are recycled at the end of their use, rather than incinerated or landfilled. Barriers to achieving this vision include high price sensitivity in the fibers market, short trend cycles (e.g. fast fashion), undeveloped collection and sorting infrastructure, and blended fibers and chemical additives that compromise the quality and safety of textile recycling.
The ten calls to action to accelerate the transition to a circular textile economy include incentivizing and supporting textiles’ design for longevity and recyclability, encouraging behavioral shifts, guiding new business models, increasing efficiency and quality in textiles sorting, and making the recycled fibers market more competitive. The authors note that (re)used textiles sent overseas can deliver environmental benefits, but it remains unclear how much imported textiles are actually reused, rather than downcycled or disposed of. Accordingly, a call to action emphasizes that the used textiles trade should be managed with targeted efforts to ensure environmental benefits and help preserve local industries, in part through matching countries’ desired levels of import and export.
The report, ‘Circular Economy Action Agenda for Plastics,’ also by PACE and Accenture, projects plastic packaging volumes to more than quadruple by 2050, to over 318 million tons per year. A circular economy for plastics, the report notes, starts with eliminating unnecessary plastics and shifting from virgin materials to recycled or renewable ones. Highlighting that just 14% of plastic packaging today is collected for recycling (and that an even lower percentage is actually recycled), several of the report’s ten calls to action point to a need for incentivizing reusing—and eventually recycling—plastics, in part through better-functioning collection systems and strategically-planned sorting and recycling facilities.
Fragmentation of the plastic waste trade globally can contribute to uncertainty around investments in reverse logistics and recycling infrastructure.
The report calls out fragmentation of the plastic waste trade globally as a barrier to a circular economy for plastics, which, beyond disincentivizing plastics’ collection and transport, can also contribute to uncertainty around investments in reverse logistics and recycling infrastructure. One of the calls to action outlines how actors can strategically plan sorting and recycling facilities in compliance with trade regulations. The call to action references the Basel Convention’s Plastics Waste Amendments, which came into effect in January 2021, to enhance control of transboundary movements of plastic waste.
The report, ‘Circular Economy Action Agenda: Food,’ developed by the PACE Secretariat and Resonance, notes that a third of all food is currently lost or wasted, despite the fact that 800 million people do not have enough to eat. The report highlights the value of a regenerative food system that goes far beyond the current production regime where 75% of food is derived from just 12 plant and animal species. Rather, a circular food economy would recycle the nutrients in food byproducts to make textiles and animal feed or drive innovations. Less than 2% of nutrients are recycled today.
The report calls for a transition to healthy diets based on regenerative practices that avert food loss and waste hotspots. Additional calls to action include reframing wasted food and byproducts as valuable resources, rather than trash, and facilitating secondary market development for these inputs. Nineteen barriers identified include perverse incentives such as ecologically harmful agricultural subsidies and lack of finance or assistance to more sustainable production methods, as well as poor coherence and logistics such as cold chains and proper storage.
The report, ‘Circular Economy Action Agenda: Capital Equipment,’ by PACE, Accenture, and Circle Economy, covers long-lived buildings, machines, and infrastructure, which consume 7.2 million tons of raw materials annually. A circular economy for capital equipment, the report notes, would primarily see products designed with reuse rather than recycling in mind, and delivered though “product-as-a-service” models that go beyond one-off sales. Calls to action, similar to other sectors, include incentives for circular product design, servitization, increasing end-of-use product return, and responsible reverse logistics systems, among other recommendations. One barrier of note is that some public organizations are not allowed to trade with private parties, which prevents capital equipment from being returned for refurbishing or reuse.
PACE notes that over 200 experts from more than 100 businesses, governments, and civil society organizations have contributed to the development of the Action Agenda. PACE was created in 2018 by the World Economic Forum (WEF). It is now hosted by the World Resources Institute (WRI). [Publication: Circular Economy Action Agenda: Electronics] [Publication: Circular Economy Action Agenda: Textiles] [Publication: Circular Economy Action Agenda: Plastics] [Publication: Circular Economy Action Agenda: Food] [Publication: Circular Economy Action Agenda: Capital Equipment] [PACE Circular Economy Action Agenda Landing Page]