The production phase of the circular economy

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European Commission, The production phase of the circular economy, Factsheet, 07.12.2015

Type Article
Topics Circular Economy


“The circular economy starts at the very beginning of a product's lifecycle”. In fact, the design and production phase – if undertaken with less-waste-production goal in mind – can help “save resources, avoid inefficient waste management and create new business opportunities”.

--> We can talk about a sort of circularity-by-design [Please note, however, that “Intelligent Assets”, at p. 12, states that the very same definition of circular economy includes the words “by design”: “[Circular economy] is characterized, more than defined, as an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design”.], and IoT could be part of such design (e.g., implemented to help energy efficiency, or waste management, or repairability and upgradability). [See also “Intelligent Assets”, which asks at p. 4 whether the IoT could enable a circular economy “that is restorative and regenerative by design”.] Here IoT is not the aim of businesses, but the tool they employ for a different aim: circularity. Thinking about IoT for circularity is a way to reflect on consumer-related IoT in a constructive way: a tool which should be used to implement something important for the overall society, and not a dangerous and deceptive feature consumer products are provided with in order to attract, spy and/or lock-in consumers (“Intelligent Assets”, p. 18, says something similar: IoT consumer application are not necessarily high value.).

--> Taking care of circularity already in the production phase could for example mean that producers may equip their products with smart modules enabling circularity even if they do not have a specific intention to employ them in first person (e.g. RFID or sensors which could be used by third parties to enable recovery and recycling). Most importantly, if producers already use smart modules which collect data about the product or the consumer, should – in the design phase – enable a mechanism of data flow which fosters circularity.

“Intelligent Assets”, p. 44, highlights how businesses may be driven by factors different from circularity – e.g. value for money; therefore, regulators and policy makers should intervene to foster the development of a market implementing circularity. --> This intervention may be required also for what concerns data sharing, because companies may be interested in maintaining siloed data in order to sell them and to not give advantages to (potential) competitors (see p. 45, where it is said that the traditional model is to centralize data in order to maintain control).