Many factors are involved in the transition from a linear to a circular economy. Can new developments count on social acceptance? How does policy and legislation respond? Which economic stimuli will strengthen the desired change? Wageningen Economic Research provides knowledge into all these aspects of the circular economy and more.
Floor Brouwer is a scientist at Wageningen Economic Research, previously known as LEI Wageningen UR. He says that the circular economy theme has clearly become a more important issue on the policy and research agenda in recent times. “This is partly thanks to the EU, which is expecting a transition from the ‘waste economy’ to an economy in which we retain the value in chains for as long as possible. Enabling this transition demands new technology and partnerships in the chain. We carry out research on behalf of government bodies and companies into the social acceptance of innovations and the effect of legislation, regulations and economic stimuli.”
Water and climate
Water and climate play a major role in research into a circular economy. “Closing cycles is a key theme for Wageningen Economic Research,” says Brouwer. “We make a major contribution to researching the knowledge required for this theme. For example, we study the potential of phosphorus which can be reclaimed from manure and map the possible sales opportunities. But we also look at the legislative part of nutrients recovered. The government is concerned about risks from recovered nutrients to public health and the environment. Closing cycles can also contribute to stimulating a circular economy.” These studies focus on the social acceptance of innovations and Brouwer cites measures to separate waste water and rain water in urban environments.
Effects of a circular economy
Research into the transition from a fossil economy to a circular economy often goes beyond existing domains, Brouwers continues. “Abandoning fossil fuels may lead to a number of effects, both desired and undesirable. It contributes to the reduction of CO2 emissions. The question is whether the large-scale implementation of renewable energy would lead to increased water consumption. We perform research into all these effects. We also calculate the economic impact of measures, including taxes on carbon, for instance. This way we interconnect themes involving energy, food, water and climate, also called the Nexus.”
Employment, environment and welfare
As part of the EU research programme Horizon 2020, Wageningen Economic Research will be exploring what the transition to a circular economy may mean for employment, the environment and welfare over the coming years. Although this aspect is currently limited, according to Brouwer, Europe is aiming to link the growth of the circular economy to new jobs and better welfare.
“Last year, the IMF calculated that the use of fossil fuel is subsidised by 5,000 billion dollars a year worldwide. This comes about via discounts on the use of non-renewables and takes into account environmental damage now and in the future. The transition to a low-carbon economy will be an important task in climate policy and lead to major shifts in the economy. Over the years ahead we will be calculating the various options as part of an international consortium.”
The ambitions of the EU to make the transition to a circular economy are considerable. “The circular economy demands new solutions and this offers companies in Europe and the Netherlands international opportunities,” Brouwer concludes. “As a research institute, we provide the economic and social knowledge required to enable a successful transition.”