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Executing circular economy strategies in practice in Finland. Results and experiences from Circwaste project

ISBN (nid):ISBN 978-952-11-5391-4  
Julkaisusarja ja numero:Reports of the Finnish Environment Institute 19/2021 
Kustantaja:Suomen ympäristökeskus 
Tekijät:Tuuli Myllymaa, Kati Pitkänen, Tiina K. M. Karppinen, Hanna Savolahti, Helena Dahlbo, Jáchym Judl, Jouni Neuvonen, Hannele Ahponen, Katja Lepistö, Hannu Savolainen, Aino Ukkonen, Antti Rehunen, Kimmo Nurmio, Santtu Karhinen, Katriina Alhola, Petrus Kautto, Hanna Salmenperä, Teija Haavisto, Anne Holma, Ida Mönkkönen, Riina Antikainen, Kaarina Kaminen, Sara Turunen, Sami Alt, Camilla Sederholm 

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A Europe-wide circular economy policy was launched in 2014 when the European Commission published the first strategic policy programme for circular economy. It was compiled to provide very comprehensive impacts and dimensions of sustainable development: sustainable growth and a climate neutral, resource efficient and competitive economy. The targets of a circular economy are that the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible, economic growth is decoupled from resource use, generation of waste and environmental loads are minimised, and pressure on the Earth’s resources and biodiversity is minimised. The European Union is supporting the sustainability transition with research and development funding. In Finland, Circwaste – Towards Circular Economy is one of the biggest development projects accelerating the transition to a circular economy. During the period 2016–2020, the project has produced monitoring data on the development of circular economy and the sustainability of waste management, highlighted the circular economy concept, promoted stakeholder collaboration, supported strategic national processes, strengthened know-how and mainstreamed and concretised circular economy thinking. This interim report presents all the relevant results so far. It is crucial that data is produced from different angles on implementing the circular economy. More information is needed both to support decision making and on connections between and reflections on different factors. The key figures for Finland show quite clear coupling of the use of natural resources, waste amounts and economic growth. The circular material use rate is ca. 7%, which can be considered quite modest. Quantitative national targets for decreasing the use of natural resources are needed. Instead of country comparisons, the focus should be on trends in order to learn from the past and to identify the policy instruments needed to achieve the level aspired to. One of the key findings is the need for regional indicators and data for decisionmaking. The work done within Circwaste is the first effort towards a systematic monitoring scheme for monitoring circular economy regionally. The study showed that the production of regional waste data is challenging, that the estimated recycling rates have not increased adequately to reach the EU targets and that there could therefore be a need for municipallevel recycling targets. The transition to a circular economy also causes fundamental social changes in society. In the project, new indicators were developed for measuring social impacts: circular economy employment, education and employment for vulnerable groups, publicly shared resources, accessibility of recycling services and sustainable vehicle fuels. The first baseline data show advances towards the circular economy: the accessibility of waste management services has improved, the Finnish educational system has been able to respond quickly to the need for circular economy education, circular economy activities have potential for the employment of vulnerable groups and economic activities related to recycling, repair and reuse have grown. The regions and municipalities emerge as key actors in facilitating a socially just transition towards a circular economy. The study on innovative material processing technologies gathered data on technologies for elemental recycling, especially for plastic waste but also for making new fibres from textiles waste. Financial issues are key to the survival of these technologies and there is a need for governmental financial support. Public procurers can be considered key players in the circular economy, creating demand for more sustainable products and services. Implementing circular economy in municipalities requires commitment, financial planning, interaction with regional actors and inclusion of circular economy in financial rules. The construction sector is a major consumer of natural resources, but the municipalities can make construction more sustainable through public procurements and planning. As buyers, they can require the use of recycled raw materials and soils in construction projects. Obligations for ecological compensation and goals of no net loss of biodiversity would decrease the pressure on natural resources. To support municipalities in their work, a national organisation for providing municipal auditing, development, education and business support services could be established. Employing circular economy experts in each municipality to work as crossadministrative coordinators could enhance the transition. The project has created a lot of political, theoretical and practical content on the concept and field of circular economy. The next steps are to further develop and widen, as well as deepen, the results and to provide national support in searching for answers and solutions for decreasing the use of natural resources, achieving the MSW recycling targets and creating a more sustainable society.