Frank Boons: “We’re approaching the acceleration point”

The transition to a circular economy will be accompanied by various societal challenges that are all interlinked, said Frank Boons (University of Manchester, Maastricht University). This is why he believes in taking a systematic approach that combines reflection and action.

Boons pointed out that the SDGs serving as a framework for the transition should not be seen as goals in isolation: “Goals can both strengthen and work against each other, and it’s vital to take that into account in projects. We must also pay attention to the stresses and impossibilities associated with the circular economy.” Boons also remarked on how people continue to talk primarily in technological terms about the circular economy. “The way in which technology relates to, for instance, the biosphere is rarely discussed.” He shared a chart showing figures on material use in the EU and how small an amount is actually biobased. “We have an enormous challenge on our hands if we really want all the materials that we use now to be biobased in the future.”

Major revolution

The transition to a circular economy is the next big revolution and history teaches us that this sort of upheaval usually lasts around 50 years. If we take the 1990s as the start of the circular revolution, we are now approaching the acceleration point, according to Boons. The time for action is now… But how? Firstly, by collecting current data which will show whether our society is really more sustainable than five years ago. General goals must be replaced by annual improvement targets. Active sunset management must be used to bring an end to non-sustainable processes. Finally, a powerful social debate is required that generates the political will which is currently largely absent.