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Conference on sustainable circular economy brought together science, business and policy-making

EU2019FIMinistry of the Environment 4.10.2019 13.17
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Photo: Susanna Lehto, Business Finland

The conference European Days for Sustainable Circular Economy took place between 30 September and 1 October 2019 in Helsinki. The aim of the conference was to present the state of the circular economy and make recommendations for promoting a sustainable circular economy based on the latest research.

The conference brought together 750 scientists, policy-makers, business and industry representatives, and representatives for funding agencies, authorities and NGOs. The Ministry of the Environment, Business Finland, EIT, EIT Digital, EIT RawMaterials and EIT Food organised the conference.

The two-day conference started with a joint seminar on sustainable circular economy. Keynote speeches were delivered by Jocelyn Blériot, Executive Officer of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Dirk Jan van den Berg, Chair of the EIT Governing Board, and Maurizio Gattiglio, Executive Vice-President of Prima Industrie S.p.A. and Vice Chair of MANUFUTURE ETP.

The second day split into three parallel conferences: Circular Economy, Manufuture and Sustainable Innovation.

Circular economy: trade-offs and synergies

Hans Bruyninckx, head of the European Environment Agency, chaired a panel discussion on trade-offs and synergies between circular economy and other environmental goals. Bruynickx saw several synergies between climate change and other environmental goals.

“The biggest synergy is with climate change. A large part of the emissions has to do with resource use, and by going circular, we can become more resource-efficient. Another synergy is with biodiversity and ecosystems. For example, I mean how we use land for food or mining – it has huge impacts on ecosystems, and we cannot afford to destroy ecosystems. When there is less need for using new resources, ecosystems are saved. Thirdly, I see big health benefits. A more circular and a less toxic way of using resources benefits our health, also mentally. Right now, we're drowning in stuff. We're stuffocating,” Bruyninckx said.

The Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, the Finnish Institute for Occupational Health, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency have in turn been studying the trade-offs in managing hazardous substances in a circular economy. A circular economy puts new challenges on current chemicals and waste regulations, since they were made from a linear perspective. A deeper knowledge on hazardous substances helps us remove hazardous materials from the material loop.

“We can only manage what we understand and we can only know what we have measured. We should learn to identify hazardous substances in products and waste streams better than we do now. This requires improvement in measuring techniques. From an environmental and human exposure point of view, this is a problem: we have to be able to measure hazardous substances from different matrices to avoid recycling hazardous substances to new products. And we don’t want to increase environmental chemicalisation because of recycling,” said Sari Kauppi, Senior Research Scientist and Acting Director at the Finnish Environmental Institute SYKE.

Luckily, there is a lot of research focusing on exactly this. The sooner we learn how we can safely go circular, the sooner we can find solutions to grand challenges like biodiversity loss and climate change.

“If we don’t put the trade-offs on the table, our work will be about fixing them afterwards. There are many brilliant young scientists who are able to find solutions to the complex sustainability challenges. Next, we need to challenge businesses and policy-makers to take the solutions into account,” Bruyninckx said.

circular economy
environment