Circular economy strategy 2.0

Assistant Secretary in the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, Philip Nugent, outlines the intention to move to an action plan-approach in the development of a circular economy strategy 2.0.

Nugent highlights that while Ireland is still very much in the “active implementation stage” of its inaugural circular economy strategy, published at the end of 2021, development on the next iteration has already begun.

Describing the primary circular economy strategy’s purpose as addressing the economic, regulatory, and social barriers in Ireland’s transition to a more circular economy, the Assistant Secretary outlines an ambition under a circular economy strategy 2.0 to move from a statutory basis to an action plan-approach, with metrics and targets.

Ireland is embarking on the development of a circular economy from a low base. Nugent points out that Ireland’s circular material use rate (material recovered and fed back into the economy) is the second worst in Europe. Ireland’s 1.8 per cent rate is significantly lower than the 12.8 per cent EU average and a high of 30.9 per cent recorded in the Netherlands.

Challenges to growing the circular economy in Ireland include the current structure of the domestic economy and Ireland’s location as an island on Europe’s geographic periphery. Additionally, public understanding of the circular economy remains poor. Research carried out by Ibec and the EPA in 2019 found that only 51 per cent of Ibec’s member companies’ leaders understood what is meant by the circular economy.

Nugent notes that those countries whose circular economies have been most advanced to date have benefited from overarching circular economy policies such as cohesive frameworks for government, private and civil society activity, clear national ambitions, and priorities in relation to the circular economy.

Published in Q4 of 2021, the Whole-of-Government Circular Economy Strategy 2022-23: Living more, using less provides a national policy framework for Ireland’s transition to a circular economy and promotes public sector leadership in adopting circular policies and practices.

Underpinning the transition is an ambition to reduce Ireland’s circularity gap and raise the circularity rate above the EU average; raise awareness among households, businesses, and individuals about the role of the circular economy in improving lives; and support and promote investment in the circular economy with an aim of delivering sustainable, regionally balanced economic growth.

Importantly, the strategy set out an ambition for the development of a new circular economy advisory group to not only support and implement the strategy but to also help develop a circular economy strategy 2.0.

Nugent highlights some of the policy developments to date under the strategy, not least the recognition under the National Marine Planning Framework of the need to embed circular economy principles across all marine planning functions.

Similarly, progress is evident in the launch of the Deposit Return Scheme in November 2022, with a go-live date for consumers of February 2024. Other progress noted by Nugent includes:

  • the launch of the EPA’s Circular Economy Programme;
  • new end-of-waste and by-products processes, with the EPA developing national criteria for specific materials;
  • the Department’s launch of draft policies including the Geothermal Energy for a Circular Economy; Raw materials for Ireland’s Circular Economy Transition; and planned publication of the National Food Waste Prevention Roadmap at the end of 2022; and
  • The Circular Economy in Ireland report by the OECD in April 2022.

Circular Economy and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2022

Nugent emphasises the importance of the legislative and regulatory footing for Ireland’s circular economy ambitions. The Circular Economy and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2022 of July 2022 placed the circular economy strategy and the National Food Loss Prevention Roadmap on a statutory footing and established a legal requirement for government to develop and periodically update the policies.

Additionally, the Act empowers the minister to set national and sectoral targets via the strategy; streamlines the national processes for end-of-waste and by-products decisions; redesignates the existing Environment Fund as a Circular Economy Fund; and introduces an incentivised charging regime for commercial waste.

Outlining the next steps in developing Ireland’s circular economy, Nugent says that a baseline study will inform an action plan-focused circular economy strategy 2.0. Alongside the implementation of the Circular Economy Act, the Assistant Secretary points to the development of national circular economy indicators to support the strategy and highlights the launch of the first circular economy communications campaign by the Department, aimed at consumers and households, at the end of 2022.

Finally, Nugent says that following a funding call by the Department in October 2022 for the circular economy innovation grant scheme, a review of circular economy funding will take place in 2023 to “maximise the impact of public supports and identify opportunities for greater access to private financing”.

Nugent concludes by highlighting that the Department is looking at options for further direct support of large-scale circular economy projects in 2023 and beyond.

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