Sectoral targets, behavioural change and enhanced producer responsibility to support a circular economy are key recommendations of Fine Gael Policy Lab
We must protect the world’s scarce materials and move away from take, make, throw away lifestyles, the Fine Gael Policy Lab has said.
Ireland is well placed to embrace a circular approach. It offers great new opportunities. It ensures that a continuing strong economy works in harness with a sustainable society.
Overconsumption has become embedded. On average the packaging we use and then discard is four times the body weight of every man, woman and child. The food we discard is an equivalent amount.
Our clothing is used fewer and fewer times and little is resold or reused. The amount of materials recovered from construction sites for reuse is minimal. These production and consumption habits are not only wasteful, but drive a lot of our greenhouse gas emissions.
The Fine Gael Policy Lab is an innovative group that develops policy from the ground up and allows a much wider range of people to shape its policies.
The Fine Gael Policy Lab Circular Economy report, published this week, emphasizes the need to recognise that what is considered “Waste” is actually a “Resource” and that these are resources are ending up in the wrong place, and represent a treasure of materials to be used again and again. This shift in outlook can have a profound impact on the approach of Government, of businesses, and of individuals.
Deputy Richard Bruton, Chairman of Fine Gael’s Parliamentary Party said: “Our future is seriously threatened by how our needs for nutrition, clothing, travel, shelter, and comfort are met. Though unintended, many practices are unsustainable. It is estimated 80% of environmental damage is baked in at design stage and our overarching message is that the time has come to step back and rethink how our needs can best be met.”
The evidence is all around us of the practices which cannot be sustained, especially as new and growing populations aspire to decent and equitable standards of living.
- It takes 10,000 litres of water – what one person drinks in nine years – to make just one pair of jeans;
- 40% of people are now having to replace washing machines every 6 years or less because these types of appliances are breaking down two years sooner than a decade ago;
- One eighth of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions are embodied in the structure of new buildings, but we neglect the lower impact opportunity of better choice of materials and refurbishment rather than demolition;
- In 2020, Ireland ranked second last among all EU member states in the share of material recycled and fed back into the economy;
- On present trends material use will reach a level three times what nature can replenish with serious consequences for our environment.
Deputy Bruton continued: “Far from being more expensive, smarter methods can save us money. Research by the EPA shows the average household lost €700 last year through food waste, which is multiplying as the cost of food and other essential items rises over time.
“The Report is calling for a bold political ambition that Ireland become a leader in adopting what is known as a ‘Circular Economy’ approach. The sustainable approach to meeting our needs is no longer a nice add-on to our economic policy, it must be the core of our economic strategy.”
Recommendations emerged from several kitchens held by the Policy Lab on Construction, Food, Consumer Durables and Fast Fashion. The Policy Lab engaged with and sought submissions from interested parties and stakeholders across Ireland and the views of those who attended the kitchens have shaped the emerging proposals.
- Develop a National Hub for innovation for scaling circular design and circular material sourcing and deployment.
- Strengthen and expand Extended Producer Responsibility schemes to support the removal of materials from packaging or production which cannot be reused or recycled, and inform better segregation and storage of recovered materials.
- Create Marks of Best Practice in relevant sectors, based on evolving measures of environmental impact. These would inform labeling and in time evolve into Sectoral Circular Strategies.
- Support the growth of Sustainability Networks in the community, designed to build critical mass in Repair and Upcycling, and to create community solidarity committed to sustainable resource us
- Develop a communications campaign based on behavioural insights to promote more sustainable consumer choices and the value of pre-loved products or sharing platforms.
- Reboot public procurement to embrace the principles of the circular economy and embed a focus on lifetime cost and impact measurement.
- Develop the infrastructures to support circular practices, such as smart meters, smart controls, accessible electric charging infrastructure and sharing platforms.
Chairperson of the Fine Gael Policy Lab, Marion Coy said: “Embracing circularity wholeheartedly can provide resilience to Ireland in a more dangerous world. Every sector and every community needs to embrace the circular economy. However, at present the policy approaches are too fragmented, particularly in the pivotal arenas of planning, regulation, public procurement and finance.”
Dr Geraldine Brennan, independent Circular Economy Expert and Head of Circular Economy, Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR) said: “Circular economy represents a key part of Ireland’s climate action toolkit contributing to addressing the 45% of greenhouse gas emissions associated with products. What is encouraging is that there are many exciting opportunities for innovation when looking through a circular lens. Opportunities to re-use materials, components and products are all around us and can also deliver savings to businesses and individuals.”
What can happen in other sectors (food, construction, non-food waste, fast fashion) in the Circular Economy will be highlighted over the coming weeks.
Notes to Editor:
See full recommendations here:
About Irish Manufacturing Research
Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR) is a leading Research and Technology Organisation providing a portfolio of research, training, and consultancy services to Industry across the following four thematic pillars: Digitisation, Sustainable manufacturing, Design for Manufacturing, and Robotics and Automation. IMR works with leading global and indigenous brands to demystify, and derisk new and emerging technologies and to deliver high-impact collaborative research and services to enable advanced manufacturing for a broad range of clients across Ireland’s manufacturing network.
 UN Helps Fashion Industry Shift to Low Carbon | UNFCCC
 Einfluss der Nutzungsdauer von Produkten auf ihre Umweltwirkung: Schaffung einer Informationsgrundlage und Entwicklung von Strategien gegen „Obsoleszenz“ (umweltbundesamt.de)
 21 IGBC COP report v0.93
 EU’s circular material use rate increased in 2020 – Products Eurostat News – Eurostat (europa.eu)
 [Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation]