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Standards for a circular economy
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Content for image provided by Solange Blaszkowski, Chair of ACEA

The circular economy offers a new approach to achieving sustainable economic growth. Replacing a linear model where products are made, used and disposed, the circular economy calls for a reconsideration of how resources are managed and how waste is perceived. It is based on circular mechanisms in which products and materials can be reused, repaired, refurbished, remanufactured and, ultimately, recycled.

Achieving a circular economy has been a key objective of the European Union as part of its Green Deal and its Circular Economy Action Plan. To further strengthen its commitment to the circular economy, the EU adopted a Joint Declaration on Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy with the Indian Government in July 2020. Through this declaration, the EU and India seek to support and strengthen their dialogue and cooperation in this area.

To better understand the role of standards and policy to achieve resource efficiency and a circular transition, the European Union’s Resource Efficiency Initiative (EU-REI), the Seconded European Standards Experts in India (SESEI), CEN-CENELEC and the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) organized a webinar on this topic.

Among the speakers, the IEC Ambassador for the SDGs, Vimal Mahendru provided a presentation on the work of the IEC in helping to achieve a circular transition. As he noted, “For the IEC, circularity is at the heart of what we are trying to build. We started with standards addressing energy efficiency, and now we are working in material efficiency. This brings the IEC and IEC Standards at the centre of enabling the circular economy.”

Promoting material efficiency

Material efficiency is an essential part of the circular economy. It consists of the preservation of materials as well as the recovery and recycling of material at the end of the product life. Material efficiency can be placed into a hierarchy during a product’s use and waste phases with the most favourable strategies calling for the design of products associated with a longer product life using the least amount of natural resources, while the least favourable strategies represent the loss of a material resource by incinerating the material and recovering its energy.

According to Mahendru, “there can be standards at each stage. The IEC is focusing on a number of standards from the eco-design of products that embed circular economy principles to the sustainable management of e-waste.”

However, as Mahendru notes, consensus is essential. “Standards have no value if they do not have consensus from all stakeholders who are going to use it. By achieving buy-in, it becomes much easier to implement standards. For this reason, building consensus is critical.”

Work of ACEA and IEC TC 111

In addition to the product specific standards developed by IEC technical committees, IEC TC 111 develops horizontal standards related to environmental issues that are relevant to all products. Currently IEC TC 111 is developing a number of standards related to the circular economy including general method for assessing the proportion of reused components in products, guidance on material circularity considerations in environmentally conscious design and sustainable management of waste.

The Advisory Committee on environmental aspects (ACEA) provides guidance to the Standardization Management Board (SMB) on issues related to the environment, including the circular economy and material efficiency. ACEA has been informing the IEC community about the circular economy and the role of standards.

Getting involved

In the conclusion to his presentation, Mahendru called for engagement. “I strongly believe that we all inherited a wonderful earth. Unfortunately, we cannot say this is the case for our children and grandchildren.”

“Are we really proud of the world we are leaving behind as our legacy? Can we leave it to governments to find a solution? Change must also happen at an individual level. We must ask ourselves how each of us can contribute and be more responsible about our individual footprint. I would like all of us to work together so that our grandchildren inherit a better world.”

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