No alternative - circular economy should become the norm, also in Belgium

The road to circularity

  • The principle of the circular economy offers opportunities for the environment, business and society and is the alternative for sustainable growth
  • On 29 July - earlier than ever before - the world's population consumed the amount of renewable resources available for 2019 - ​ Earth Overshoot Day ​ 
  • Since the end of the 1990s, Belgium has consumed about four times its own biocapacity

Tuesday 17 September 2019 - Since the 1970s, global demand for raw materials has outstripped the Earth's own production. Today, the global economy uses the equivalent of 1.7 times our Earth’s resources for our global production and waste absorption. By 2020, it will be 1.75 times as much. These figures aren’t only linked to major powers such as the US and China; Belgium also struggles with this problem. A study by PwC shows that the circular economy is the only solution.


The circular economy - the new normal

The circular economy draws on nature as an example. The aim is to create a closed cycle of materials, which minimises the generation of waste and ideally prevents it. There are three basic principles: on the one hand, resources must be used efficiently and the preference must be given to renewable materials. Secondly, the use and lifespan of products are maximised; and thirdly, waste products play an important role in the production of new products.

In Europe, over 70% of glass and paper is already recycled, and about half of the demand for copper is met by using recycled material; Belgium is already known for its high recycling rate of packaging material. "Although many companies have long recognised the importance of circular management, it remains difficult for many of them to fully integrate the principle into their business processes," says Marc Daelman, Sustainability Lead, PwC Belgium. "It’s not just about costs or investments, but also a fundamental change in approach, thinking and management philosophy. For decades, our economy and society have been geared to a linear model: resource usage, production, consumption and disposal. The circular economy assumes a cycle - which of course has an enormous impact on all steps of the value chain."


Belgian biocapacity

The alarming rates of biodiversity loss, deforestation and soil degradation, depletion of finite resources, and disruption of the freshwater cycle are just a few examples of the state of our environment today. We often look mainly at the great powers as the major polluters of our world, but we Belgians are also drawing heavily on the resources of our Belgian soil. An ecological deficit occurs when the total consumption of the population exceeds the available biocapacity of the country. Belgium consumes four times its own biocapacity, and we import the shortfall.

"The environmental damage caused by human activity is increasing every day, all over the world," says Marc Daelman, Sustainability Lead, PwC Belgium. "It's a problem that will become ever more acute as the global population - and prosperity - grows. In Belgium, we benefit from a developed and high-performance economy, in terms of services, industry and agriculture. This, combined with the population density, means that we also have a high level of consumption. This leads to a shortage of biocapacity, which is why Belgian companies must also make the circular economy a priority".

Not only are the economic benefits of the circular economy very clear in the long run, it also offers a solution to the expectations of consumers today. According to PwC's recent Global Consumer Insights Survey, which surveyed more than 21,000 respondents around the world, 35% choose sustainable products to protect the environment, 37% look for products with environmentally friendly packaging, and 41% avoid using plastic whenever possible. In addition, closely interlinked supply chains are under increasing pressure to focus on environmental and social responsibility.

Download the full report here.

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