The Circular Economy for a Climate Neutral Europe by 2050

eu climate neutral 2050

In light of recent extreme climate events, such as the recent heat wave that broke heat records in multiple European countries and melted 11 million tonnes of ice in just 24 hours, it is important to revisit how exactly we can combat climate change and neutralize our effects on the environment.

Nearly a year ago, the European Commission announced a long-term strategy to reach the goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050. This goal is, of course, primarily for the purpose of helping the planet regain its equilibrium and mitigating the looming threat of climate-induced disasters, but doing so will also ensure the continuation of a prosperous and sustainable European economy. Thus, it is in the interests of not only the environment, but also every human’s well-being, that European municipalities, individuals, and industries start to make steps towards the 2050 goal of becoming climate neutral.

What is climate neutral?

Becoming climate neutral entails limiting global warming to just 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels, via methods such as reducing GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions and recapturing the CO2 in the atmosphere. One of the central pillars of the European Commission’s 2050 climate strategy is the employment of the circular economy as a key enabler to achieve these climate goals while meanwhile maintaining the EU’s position as a competitive economy. 

What is the circular economy?

The circular economy is one in which the way that we produce and consume is entirely rethought. The way things work now in our current linear economy is that the resources we need are taken from our earth, made into the products we consume, and wasted thereafter. The circular economy instead loops the waste streams back into the system in the form of new resource inputs, as well as rethinks strategies for prolonging the life and value of the resources and products already in use within the cycle. Thus, the circular economy effectively reduces the amount of new resources needing to be sucked up from the earth, while simultaneously reducing the amount of waste and emissions thrown into it.

So how exactly does the European Commission intend to use the circular economy to go climate neutral? Here are a few key resources that were mentioned in their report which can be manipulated using circular economy principles to create a greener, more sustainable economy.

Biomass

Ever since we came to the realization of the harmfulness of fossil fuels, we have been making significant movement towards clean, renewable energy. While renewable energy comes in many different forms, such as solar or geothermal, one source of this energy that can be captured within a circular economy is biomass. Biomass is organic waste, which can be collected from farms or manufacturing plants in the form of plant waste from crops or wood scraps, or animal droppings from livestock. This waste is then burned and used to heat water, which creates steam that powers generators. Using biomass as an energy source has the power to significantly reduce energy related emissions of large energy-consumptive processes, such as the production of industrial goods.

Biomass is renewable energy, makes europe climate neutral by 2050
Biomass is a form of renewable energy derived from the burning of organic waste.
Image courtesy of Green Mountain Energy

CO2

Carbon dioxide is one of the most notorious greenhouse gasses contributing to global warming, with as much as 414.7 ppm of it reported to be in our atmosphere in May 2019 – which is the second-highest that’s been recorded. Reducing this amount is a two-way effort: we must reduce the amount of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere, and we must also try to recapture the CO2 that is already out there. Carbon capturing technologies can do both. 

Carbon capture firms, such as LanzaTech, capture and convert CO2 into ethanol, which can be used as a source of fuel or to create chemicals. The carbon can be ‘sucked’ out of the air, effectively reducing the amount of CO2 already in our atmosphere. Alternatively, it can reduce the amount of CO2 that is emitted in the first place, by being taken from waste from consumer products and municipal solid waste that was previously thought to be un-recyclable. 

Carbon capture companies like LanzaTech are employing circular economy principles to simultaneously turn waste into something of value and reduce carbon dioxide emissions – the reduction of which works towards limiting the rise of global temperatures. In fact, the amount of CO2 that LanzaTech is currently reducing equates to the amount that would be reduced if we were to take 70,000 cars off the road.

Industrial Materials

Glass, steel, and plastics are frequently used industrial materials, and as such they are highly resource-intensive. While lots of energy, water, raw materials, and chemicals are used for their production, many of these resources are lost to the economy as the products that these materials build up are thrown away. The result of this is not only an issue of environmental sustainability, but also an issue of economic loss and missed opportunity.

One ton of recycled glass eliminates 3.5 kilograms of emissions and 1.5 cubic meters of landfill space, as well as saving 42 Kwh of energy and 19 liters of oil. Improving the recovery and recycling of raw materials through the circular economy would make the production of these industrial materials much less emission-intensive and much more resource-efficient, leading to a cleaner atmosphere and a re-balanced ecosystem. Furthermore, ensuring the prolonged use of materials by reusing them for secondary purposes even further reduces their environmental impact, as the scarce resources that are tied up in them are made useful for longer.

According to the report by the European Commission, “Citizens and companies across all EU countries have already succeeded in lowering GHG emissions by 22%, while gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 58% between 1990 and 2017. The EU has demonstrated that it is possible to decouple emissions from economic growth.” Furthermore, when considering the number of companies who have already put circular economy methodologies into practice, using the circular economy as a strategic pathway to diminish emissions and head towards climate neutrality is both technologically possible and economically feasible.

What is MaterialTrader doing towards achieving climate neutrality through the circular economy?

We at MaterialTrader are convinced that the only viable future for our economy is circular. We want to combat the amount of still-usable materials going to waste, while simultaneously providing industries with the resources they need. Thus, we made an online trading platform for second-hand or reusable materials, machinery, and production by-products, to help these resources find their second life somewhere outside of a landfill. When people trade their materials on our platform, they support the recycling and re-production of these materials, effectively preventing emissions and reducing resource dependency.

What can you do to achieve climate neutrality through the circular economy?

If you are a materials manufacturer, recycler, or generally handle stocks of materials in some form, you can help forward the cause by trading your materials on our platform. By helping secondary raw materials find a second life in someone else’s hands, you are helping to create a circular economy of materials, and are ultimately helping Europe achieve its goal of being climate neutral by 2050.

Interested? Post a listing.

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