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Circular economy in Scandinavia

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We’re going to save the planet. Within 10 years, climate change will have stopped. We will be living in robust, sustainable cities. And we have full control over our consumption. Nobody said it would be easy. But it's easier than many think.

We need to go through 17 doors (the UN Sustainability Goals) before we get there. One of the keys can actually be used to open at least 3 of those doors (number 11, 12 and 13). The key is to be found within Circular Economy.

  • Reduce waste
  • Reuse materials (directly, or through redesign)
  • Recycle what we cannot reuse

If we manage that - to utilize our materials more efficiently, their lifespan and economic value will increase. At the same time, the extraction of new raw materials and waste production will be reduced. And so, we are three steps closer to our goal.

Circular economy in Sweden

Sweden is aiming to become the world's first fossil-free welfare state. To get there, the country has developed a National Strategy for the transition to a circular economy. It addresses 4 focus areas:

  1. Sustainable production and product design
  2. Sustainable consumption and use of materials, products and services
  3. Non-toxic, circular circuits
  4. Innovation and business
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The Swedish government's role in this is to facilitate the rest. For politics, business, the public sector, academia, private individuals, and Swedish civil society. With broad action plans and concrete measures, they have already done just that.

It starts with the municipalities. They will be an important part of the transition, through information, innovation, and technological development, amongst others.

In the forthcoming national work, priority will be given to plastics, textiles, bio-based raw materials, food, construction, and real estate (including construction and demolition waste), as well as innovation-critical metals and minerals. If Sweden manages to get ahead, it will give Swedish businesses and industries a major competitive advantage - Also against other countries.

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Circular economy in Denmark

If we move on to Denmark, we will see more hard work being put down in the transition to a circular economy. The unused potential for growth, employment and the environment is under scrutiny.

The Danes' national strategy paints a beautiful picture of an ideal world: «… In a circular economy, materials and products are recycled, their value is fully utilized, and emissions are minimized. Buildings and products are designed to be reused, repaired and recycled …»

At the Circular Summit in 2017, it was decided that resource productivity (how much value is extracted from the resources) will be increased by 40% by 2030, and that recycling in the same period will increase from 58% to 80%. The goal is as ambitious as possible. Because Denmark is working for it.

Just like Sweden, the Danish government has pointed out where the development should start: Business and industry will be the primary driving forces. The public sector shall create the framework for the private sector. This is where the municipalities enter the picture once again.

Denmark acknowledges in its strategy that the municipalities do not have what they need to adapt.

It points to different waste rules across municipalities - which result in unequal conditions of competition within the country, and major barriers for the developing new circular solutions. Therefore, a more uniform administration and enforcement of the rules for waste and recycled raw materials will be created - Applicable both in Denmark and internationally.

In other words, the strategy will turn barriers into competitive advantages.

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Circular economy in Norway

In March this year, the Norwegian Prime Minister declared that "Norway shall be a pioneer in the development of a green circular economy that utilizes resources better and establish a national strategy for circular economy."

If Norway is going to reach the point where it can be called a pioneering country, it must first have the right foundation to build on. So far, there is only a "Knowledge base for national strategy for circular economy" to use (developed by Deloitte, on behalf of the Ministry of Climate and the Environment). The report states once again that:

  • There is a significant potential for increased circularity in Norway.
  • There is a clear need for public means to succeed with the restructuring.
  • Waste from the construction and real estate industry should be high up on the priority list: A halving of construction waste emissions is equivalent to removing all fossil cars from Norwegian roads (according to Norwegian Green Building Council). If Norway is to achieve its sustainability goals, the focus should therefore be on handling construction waste.

The municipal sector undoubtedly plays a crucial role in this, and Deloitte points to the same challenge as Denmark: Norwegian municipalities have very different systems for waste management. Not too surprising, as it is up to the industries themselves to ensure that their own waste is handled.

The final strategy was supposed to be ready by December 20 this year. The deadline has been postponed "until spring". The Knowledge base is a good signal, so let's hope that the municipalities get what they need to open the UN doors. In the meantime, we will be anxiously awaiting to see who wins the Scandinavian race - the first fossil welfare state, the ideal world, or the circular pioneer country?