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TIP 1 – General framework of circular economy

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Resource consumption is rapidly increasing globally. The European Commission signals a global trend in resource consumption that will be equal to that of three planets by 2050. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that the amount of material extracted and used has increased eight-fold over the twentieth century, surpassing 80 billion tons in 2015. Furthermore, forecasts indicate that material extraction could exceed 183 billion tons by 2050. Resources are therefore becoming increasingly scarce and their extraction and processing cause half of total greenhouse gas emissions, the loss of more than 90% of biodiversity, and water stress. Hence the need to use resources in a different way. They have become the subject of an increasing number of national and international policies aimed at addressing the issue.

In the context of the circular economy, on 2 December 2015, the European Commission adopted the first package of measures (COM 2015) to encourage Europe’s transition towards a circular economy, with the aim of strengthening global competitiveness, stimulating sustainable economic growth, and the creation of new jobs. The Commission’s proposals cover the entire life cycle: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials.

In 2020, the European Commission launched a new Action Plan for the circular economy (COM 2020), an integral part of the European Green Deal, which indicates the concept of circularity as a basis for achieving the goal of climate neutrality by 2050, specifying a series of measures relating to the entire life cycle of products useful for achieving this goal. The plan includes rules to design products with higher use of recycled raw materials, longer lasting products, easier to reuse, repair, and recycle

The eighth Environment Action Program (8th EAP) aims to stimulate the transition to a green economy and to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, going “beyond GDP”. It is therefore required to overcome the traditional model of economic development, born during the Industrial Revolution, which is based on the linear approach of “take, produce, consume, discard”. The new economic model instead aims to keep the value of the products intact even after their end of life, reintegrating them into the production process.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, one of the first and most important organizations to deal with the subject, the circular economy can be defined as:

“A systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. It is based on three principles, driven by design: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials (at their highest value), and regenerate nature”.

However, an unambiguous and shared definition does not yet exist. Depending on the sector there is often a different interpretation of the same concept. Furthermore, even the ability to activate concrete “circularity” actions in the production and supply of goods and services still appears to be relatively limited if we take SMEs as a reference.

All these considered, the project “Too Good To Go – Waste Free Economy Transformation for SMEs” (2Good2Go) has introduced a working approach for the implementation of an Action Plan for improving the circular practices in SMEs, as reported in the scheme below.

Implementation path scheme of the Action Plan for circular economy

A glossary of terms and definitions related to the circular economy as well as details of the above reported scheme are presented in the “results section” of the project website (