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Designing Out Waste: The challenges to full circularity

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Executive Summary

Lead contributor: Dr. Hernan Ruiz Ocampo
Co-author: Vlatka Katusic

Waste generation is a product of urbanisation, economic development, and population growth. As nations and cities become more populated and prosperous, offer more products and services to citizens, and participate in global trade and exchange, they face corresponding amounts of waste to manage through treatment and disposal. Production and manufacturing of products follow a linear system in which materials are inputs to produce goods discarded after use within a brief time. This system generates 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) annually worldwide, of which at least one-third lack safe environmental management. The average European generates 5️ tonnes of waste each year. Worldwide, countries in East Asia and Pacific and the Europe and Central Asia regions account for 43% of the world’s waste by magnitude. These amounts generated create severe damage to the environment. A large part of it ends up in our seas, oceans and landfill, and their disposal is overwhelming cities and the planet. Globally, about 37% of waste is disposed of in some landfills, 33% is openly dumped, 19% undergoes materials recovery through recycling and composting, and 11% is treated through modern incineration. Therefore, the growing waste is one of the top 3 environmental concerns in Europe. 

The chapter explains two sectors of significant waste pollution: plastics and food. Global plastic production has increased 20-fold since the 1960s, and is estimated to double again over the next 20 years. Three hundred million tons of plastic are created yearly, and 8 million tons of plastic winds up in the ocean each year, endangering wildlife and polluting ecosystems. This number is expected to grow, and reports suggest that without improvements to waste management of plastic materials, 90 million tons of plastic could enter the world’s aquatic ecosystems by 2030. Recycling efforts are not enough, and the demand for recycled plastic only represents around 6% of the total demand for plastic in Europe. 

But food waste is a social problem with far-reaching consequences. The food system does not work for people or for the environment. Industrial farming has turned agriculture into a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, driving species extinction. Food waste accounts for almost a third of the food produced.  The resource impact of producing wasted food is substantial; however, little is known about the energy and water consumed in managing food waste after it has been disposed of. 

The chapter explains the role of the Circular Economy as an enabler of the transition to a more sustainable way of producing goods. It provides the reader with a practical overview of the strategies addressing the complex matter of waste pollution: reuse/redistribute, refurbish/remanufacture, product design, and alternative materials to decrease waste produced (waste prevention), considering the entire life cycle of products and modernising the economy while also protecting the environment. Practitioners can recognise value creation for businesses and society by understanding the removal chain and therefore contributing to the promotion of behavioural change. 

How you will learn?

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Discover what's inside

What is the link between waste generation and climate change?

Discover now the environmental impacts of waste generation and how they contribute to climate change. Learn how a large part of waste generated ends up in our seas, oceans, and landfill and how their disposal overwhelms cities and the planet.

Which are critical sectors of waste pollution?

Learn about the sectors of significant waste pollution: plastics, food, and packaging, and explore how the Circular Economy enables the transition to a more sustainable way of producing goods that considers its entire life cycle, modernizing the economy while protecting the environment.

Why is recycling not enough?

The best waste is the one that does not exist. Discover how waste is becoming a raw material and how our society is moving towards better waste management and a change in mindset reconciling economic growth and social progress towards a Circular Economy.

Turning challenges into opportunities

Explore opportunities to reduce waste generation, increase reuse, waste collection, and recycling in critical sectors and learn about the expansion of deposit-refund schemes, green public procurement (GPP), phasing-out unsustainable subsidies, supporting the development of Circular Economy technologies, and fiscal incentives for recovered or re-used products.

What is the role of the Circular Economy in waste management future strategies?

Explore how the shift to a Circular Economy is expected to impact waste management strategies and how it will help reduce waste generation and emissions of greenhouse gases, mitigating and preventing environmental degradation and creating economic and social value.

How to reduce the negative consequences of our consumption habits?

Discover how consumption habits lead to exponential needs to treat waste and learn how working on mindset and behavioral change through communication are essential in installing the idea of waste as a resource to achieve eco-citizenship in our society.

Which are the drivers of waste prevention and circularity?

Policy shifts can reduce waste pollution by incentivizing business and consumer behavior changes and product design, alternatives, and recycling. Discover how an enhanced waste policy supports waste prevention and circularity to recover economic value and avoid or minimize environmental impact and climate change.

Every action counts, no action is too small!

Discover how actions and contributions at citizen, professional, research and industry level are being prepared to reduce our consumption impact towards a Circular Economy pursuing the goal of preserving our resources and our planet. Moreover, explore how it will combat climate change.

Meet the Leader

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Enrollment Information

  • Once you have enrolled, you will be given access to our Learning Management System.
  • The course is entirely online and self-paced. We estimate that the total effort required to be 3 hours.
  • You will be guided through the original content of the course with dynamic, rich, enjoyable, narrated, and easy-to-understand content. The course is divided into easily navigated sections focusing at each stage on the learning objectives to be achieved. Each section is followed by non-graded “knowledge check questions”, to help you ensure that you have successfully assimilated the content. You can go back and view the content as often as you like.
  • When you reach the end of the course, you will be awarded the Certificate of Completion.

What you will gain

  • Access to one Circular Economy course, with free access to the content for one year.
  • A digitally enabled, verifiable, and shareable certificate acknowledging your achievement.
  • One-year free membership in the Circular Economy Alliance Community, including access to Circular Economy Alliance members, resources, and events.
  • Special access to Circular Economy related events, research, resources, and news.

Please note:

  • In many EU countries, the cost of certification can be covered by personal or corporate “training accounts”. Please inquire within your organization or with the appropriate institution within your country for more information.


Circular Economy Alliance Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics

The Circular Economy Alliance platform, services, and products are designed to appeal to and be used by people from a wide variety of different backgrounds, countries, religions, and cultural norms. These diversity and inclusiveness are core values of the CEA, and we encourage our Community to embrace it and share it. That said, this geographic and cultural diversity can make effective communications and general policy definition a bit challenging.

That said, CEA is committed to advancing the transition to a just and inclusive Circular Economy which aims to decouple economic growth from resource use, eliminate waste by design, and tackle climate change. To achieve its mission and vision of a socially fair Circular Economy, CEA has adopted the principles of Corporate Social Responsibility and endeavours to promote the common good while creating value for all stakeholders. With this in mind, the Code of Conduct has been developed to ensure all activity on the platform and within the CEA community is mutually respectful. The Code of Ethics sets out the guiding ethical principles relative to all professional activities of the certified members of the Circular Economy Alliance, informs the actions of our partner network, and defines the conduct of CEA staff and persons acting on behalf of the Company.

The purpose of our Code of Conduct & Code of Ethics is to ensure that the Circular Economy Alliance platform (the Platform), products and services are inclusive and that we, our members, and our community uphold the principles and values linked to Circular Economy, social responsibility, sustainable development and all relevant domains, to ensure that people and the planet are not harmed in the name of profit, and that we all conduct ourselves with mutual respect.

Code of Conduct

The CEA Code of Conduct reflects the ethics and values of the Platform, product, services, and community. It has been prepared with members of the CEA community (the Community), content contributors, instructional designers, and administrators based on established best practices. With the involvement of our stakeholders, we will continue to update the Code of Conduct as we add new products, services, and activities and as we receive feedback from our learners and community members.

We cannot foresee all eventualities and align with all local regulations, so the Code of Conduct should indicate the nature of interactions and the social dynamic we would like to see on this Platform and within the Community. In the event of an issue not covered by this Code of Conduct, the CEA team will decide whether a behavior is acceptable or not, in a manner that is as fair and transparent as possible, while respecting the confidentiality of all involved.

This Code of Conduct applies to all activities on the Talent Learning Management Platform, the Circular Economy Alliance website, its social media pages (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Discord, etc.), including comments, forum posts, and private messages.

Certified Alumni, members of the Community, as well as candidates for Circular Economy certification are encouraged to adopt the following guidelines for conduct:

  • Contribute to maintaining a safe, supportive, and orderly online learning environment that is conducive to learning and to show respect and dignity to other persons and to property.
  • Contact or communicate with CEA administrators and other personnel in a respectful, positive manner.
  • Behave and communicate on and off the Platform in accordance with the principles of Circular Economy, social responsibility, and inclusiveness.
  • Help ensure all CEA members and personnel have a positive experience in all interactions with you.
  • Appropriate behavior we encourage is as follows: communicating and interacting with respect; demonstrating empathy and sensitivity; giving constructive feedback; acting in accordance with the principles of inclusiveness, that is, showing respect for other norms, cultures, life preferences; promoting the values and principles of Circular Economy, social responsibility, and sustainable development.
  • Maintain behavior free from all forms of bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
  • Other forms of inappropriate behavior that will not be tolerated include dangerous, inciteful, or hateful speech; harassment or intimidation; threats of violence; intentional disruption of online discussion, webinars, conference, or other events; retaliation; influencing or encouraging any of the above.
  • We are a learning community, united around the principles of Circular Economy. As such, we encourage experimentation, a growth mindset, and tolerance for failures, mistakes, or lack of understanding.
  • Despite our shared values, disagreements and misunderstandings are bound to occur in a community as diverse as the Community. In the event, have a calm discussion, ask for clarification, and don’t assume that someone is intentionally being offensive.
  • Please get in touch with the site administrators to report any conduct, posts, activity or content that you do not believe is in accordance with this Code of Conduct. We encourage the Community members to report any incidents that violate the Code of Conduct. The CEA team will respond in a timely manner, and the member who violated the Code of Conduct will be contacted directly. Please use the Contact Us link to report any breaches.
  • Please protect your own and other people’s privacy. Please be mindful not to post or otherwise share your own or other people’s personal information publicly online.
  • Unless otherwise stated, all content posted on the Talent Learning Management System is private and is not searchable online.
  • Unless otherwise stated, all content posted on the Community platform is publicly visible and searchable online.
  • If you delete your CEA Community account, you can request that your Community posts and private messages be removed or anonymized.
  • The website administrators may delete activity, comments, posts, and equivalent that do not adhere to the CEA Code of Conduct.
  • In the event of a breach of the Code of Conduct, we either issue a warning, announce an account suspension or, in the event of a grievous violation, we may announce account expulsion and removal from the platform and the Community.
  • If you are part of the Community, we share the same principles. Let’s share the responsibility for creating a positive dynamic on the Platform.

Code of Ethics 

Certified Alumni, members of the Community, as well as candidates for Circular Economy certification are strongly encouraged to uphold the highest standards of ethical norms in line with Circular Economy principles and values:

  • Act with transparency, honesty, integrity, and make the interests of society and the environment a priority, avoid any known conflicts of interest, and aim to create value for all stakeholders.
  • Promote the circularity and sustainability of the systems regulating economic life according to the principles of “people, planet and prosperity”.
  • Act with respect for others and the environment and practice their professional activities in an inclusive and non-discriminatory manner that upholds the values of equity, equality and tolerance.
  • Exercise their leadership and decision-making skills in the pursuit of establishing a culture of equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace and in society.
  • Act in a way that furthers the integrity of the discipline of Circular Economy and its representatives.

The code of conduct is regularly reviewed to reflect necessary adaptations that emerge from input received through our CEA members’ reporting or by changes to the prevailing regulatory framework.

Effective as of: 1 March 2022

Last revised: 28 February 2022

More detailed information can me found in the General Terms and Conditions and the Certifications Terms and Conditions.


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