The need to move away from a linear economy, based on taking, making and disposing, to a more sustainable circular economy is at the core of the ReNEW network message.
The circular economy’s economic model emulates the way natural eco-systems work and encourages everyone to look at alternatives to ‘throw away’ habits. But it’s much more than recycling. It has huge implications for job creation, competitiveness, resource saving and waste creation.
One of the network’s biggest achievements was getting more people to identify waste as a resource and an asset.
Changing the way policy makers, industry and the public see waste is a challenge. But one of the most significant events was a ReNEW-organised visit by Northern Ireland politicians to project partner facilities in Belgium and Germany.
The visit to :metabolon, a former landfill site in Germany, and VITO and OVAM, who developed the materials management strategy for the Flanders region of Belgium, by Belfast City Council (BCC) representatives, along with some Northern Irish MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly), had a profound impact.
City councillors tasked officers to set about the creation of a materials management strategy which would encourage the development of the circular economy in Belfast, whilst dealing with the city’s waste streams. Northern Ireland’s Department of the Environment subsequently developed a Task Force for the circular economy and the MLAs asked to be briefed regularly on ReNEW developments.
The ReNEW network was set up to investigate and share knowledge to find new solutions in the fields of policy, the economy, science and technology. The network also addressed the problem of making consumers aware of the importance of making responsible and sustainable choices.
As part of its commitment to overcome barriers imposed by European, national and regional laws ReNEW drafted recommendations for regional policy makers. These can found in its Action Plan.
While some progress has been made, there is still a long way to go for many of the regions in North West Europe. Spreading the word about ReNEW and the circular economy to consumers was challenging. The general public still, as yet, has a poor understanding of resource recovery – both the need for it and the possibilities to develop technological solutions. However, ReNEW partners found that they are generally receptive to the concept.
The ReNEW project formally ends on 31 October 2015, but partners are still available for collaboration.