How open data can contribute to the circular economy

Fecha de la noticia: 23-03-2021

economía circular

More than 2.5 billion tonnes. That is the amount of waste that, according to the European Union, is produced every year in the EU - although the specific figure is from 2016 -, with the consequent danger to the environment and our own future. This worrying situation is leading the European institutions to promote a change of model in waste management.

For years, waste management has been linear, i.e. natural resources are extracted, used to produce a certain good, consumed and then discarded. This system requires large amounts of energy and cheap, easily accessible materials. Part of this model are also practices such as programmed obsolescence, very common in the technological field, where the company "programs" the end of the useful life of the product, in such a way that after a certain period of time it stops working.

This linear model is not viable in the long term, which is why more and more people are calling for a change to a management based on the circular economy.

What is the circular economy?

Circular economy refers to an economic system that replaces the concept of 'end-of-life' with 'reduce, reuse, recycle and recover materials in the production, distribution and consumption processes'. In other words, instead of discarding products, they re-enter the production cycle, which contributes to creating environmental quality, economic prosperity and social equity for the benefit of current and future generations.

Through these actions, we can maximise the life cycle of products and minimise waste. When a product ceases to function, its materials can still be used to create new products and remain in the economy wherever possible.

There are many benefits to this practice, from reduced greenhouse gas emissions to financial savings for businesses and consumers, who can benefit from longer-lasting products.

How does open data contribute to fostering the circular economy?

As in other fields, information obtained through open data can help drive better decision-making on the efficient use of resources. Data can help train algorithms to predict certain trends and help citizens, administrations and businesses to implement the necessary measures to ensure a sustainable future.

In its article ‘Open Data and the Circular Economy’, the European Data Portal details 3 areas where open data has a major impact on the circular economy:

  • A more sustainable food system. Open data can help solve logistical problems, improve efficiency and ensure food security. Data on production and distribution, temperature changes of products, rising water levels or mapping of deforestation can improve strategic decision-making to regulate supply and demand across Europe, avoiding over-consumption of resources. In this regard, an example is Smartchain's open data-based research, which aims to develop a shorter and more sustainable food supply chain.
  • Efficient resource management and waste optimisation. The selective collection process and the use of the total capacity of recycling plants can be improved with the right information. In this regard, Santiago City Council has implemented a smart municipal solid waste collection system using IoT technology and machine learning algorithms enriched with open data. In this area, citizen awareness is also fundamental through apps such as EcoCity,  which monitors waste management in cities and sets a series of targets to improve urban recycling habits and reduce waste generation. Users can choose the recycling bin they want to monitor in their neighbourhood. If they detect any incidents with the registered bins, they can send a warning directly to the local council.
  • Pollution reduction. Open data on contamination of the air or our seas helps to raise awareness of pollution and its health risks. This type of information can improve the decision-making process to protect the health of EU citizens and the environment through preventive measures, such as halting the expansion of London Heathrow Airport. Applications and visualisations such as the National Air Index, or this freshwater ecosystem explorer show indicators that raise awareness of the reality of our environment.

How Europe's circular economy is progressing

The European Commission presented last March 2020, in the framework of the European Green Pact, a new Circular Economy Action Plan which includes proposals on designing more sustainable products, reducing waste and empowering citizens (such as the "right to repair").

In addition, in order to effectively and efficiently implement the new sustainable products framework, the Commission is pursuing a number of data actions such as:

  • Establish a common European Green Pact data space for smart applications with data on value chains and product information.
  • Provide harmonised data on concentrations of microplastics in seawater.
  • Cooperate with industry to develop harmonised systems for monitoring and managing information on hazardous substances, in synergy with measures under the sustainable product policy framework and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
  • Encourage the publication of environmental data by companies through the revision of the non-financial reporting directive.
  • Support a business initiative to develop environmental accounting principles that complement financial data with circular economy performance data.
  • In addition, Horizon Europe will support the development of indicators and innovative data, materials and products that help drive the circular economy.

Data actions included in the Circular Economy Action Plan

In our country, the promotion of the circular economy is marked by the Spanish Circular Economy Strategy 2030 (EEEC), whose objectives for 2030 include reducing waste generation by 15% compared to 2010, improving water use efficiency by 10% and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to below 10 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

We live in a context of increasing demand for raw materials and scarcity of resources. Many raw materials are finite and, as the world's population increases, so does demand. The circular economy is therefore a key element for the optimal development of the future of the entire population. Within all the initiatives that are already underway, data can play a key role in increasing our knowledge and driving technologies that help all citizens to move towards a sustainable future.

Content prepared by the team.