Circular Economy In Practice #1: A Recipe To Better Recycling in Your City

Produced by Camille Duran / Published by Eleen Murphy / Senior Editors Eleen Murphy & Camille Duran / Music Credits: License by Ins. Green White Space. Photo by Olof Löf

In this episode: We set the stage for the series, discuss key concerns around the Circular Economy narrative, and start with the low-hanging fruits: Ending waste & improving municipal recycling performance. We review leading case studies and share key success factors to advancing your program.

We also discuss what “Brexit” means for environmental policy in the UK.

This episode features views from Hervé Corvellec (Lund University, Sweden), Marco Mattiello (Contarina S.p.A., Italy), & Eleen Murphy (Green Exchange).

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Transcript from the Episode

CAMILLE DURAN (CD): Circular Economy – Let’s get practical

Summer time has arrived, and it may be time for you to relax
Whether you are:
– in the countryside enjoying some family time
– in the Mediterranean soaking up some proper sunshine
– still at the office, wrapping up before your holiday
– or anything in between…

You probably have plenty of time this summer to listen to podcasts and feed your mind.
Good news – we’re busy producing new series and we’ll be releasing quite a few episodes in the coming weeks.




You’re listening to The Green Exchange, and today we are launching a new series….



Our mission is to try to cut through the noise, and host juicy discussions that are going to inspire action.
Whether you work with a municipality, an NGO or a private organisation, you probably got enough circular economy blah-blah by now.

[VOICE]: Who for God’s sake hasn’t heard of circular economy yet? Raise you hand, come on, don’t be shy.

CD: Do you need to get some context?

No problem, we have produced a briefing episode last year that will bring you up to speed on the basics. It’s called “Your Circular Economy lesson for this year”. So if you need to brush up, find the link on the episode page or in your favourite podcast app and come back when you’re ready, because we’re going to get practical because now we’re going to get our hands dirty.

[VOICE] Back in my day, nobody questioned things!

CD: First off, let’s talk about the ‘Circular Economy and free loaders’

Hervé Corvellec (HC): I think that circular economy is a very powerful narrative but I think that if you want to know what’s behind the narrative, we have to look more into how it is going to be used by companies, how it is already used by companies, and not only as a kind of global industrial policy narrative.

CD: When we got to know about the concept we jumped right into it, like everyone else – we all like buzzwords and powerful ideas. And we like to think positive first. But there are a few things we should keep in mind when diving into the practicalities of the circular economy vision. This is why we got a hold of this man:

HC: My name is Hervé Corvellec. I am an economic professor of Business Administration in the University of Lund in Sweden.

CD: So Hervé, thanks for being with us. You are a… Circular Skeptic we could say?
What are some of your reservations on all this enthusiasm we are witnessing in the space, on all those companies embracing the circular economy narrative?

HC: So for companies, interested in the circular economy, there is the idea behind that, thanks to closed loops, they will be able to get hold of material, to secure material provision. And it’s not that much of a question of preserving the environment. It is not a question of making some kind of positive aspect to make positive contribution to sustainability. It is more the question about securing material supply.

CD: So your point is mainly that the agenda of those companies is simply cost control and not environmental policy. It’s still good news they are getting on with this, no?

HC: Absolutely, in a way, it is a better deal for the planet than the linear single use of material. But my point is that…people putting forth the advantages of circular economy, for example, Ellen MacArthur was very compelling story teller and a wonderful sportswoman. She is really putting forward that, “We do this for the environment,” well I would say, “No, companies do this because this is a very smart way of managing intensive material flows.”

CD: Shouldn’t we be happy that we are starting to see moves in that direction even on the policy side?

HC: The circular economy is developing into a policy instrument but that is a European Union Policy instrument which is going to apply to Member States, not going to be applied to companies. I think it is very important to make this clear.

CD: Yeah.

HC: I think that as long as there is this idea that it will be a sort of self-endorsed commitment which is freely endorsed, you always have the problem of free riders.

CD: I can see your point, also with the concern that any company that does not innovate in that direction may get a temporary competitive advantage against the ones that are driving a tough transition…

HC: If some company says, “Ok you get out product but you have to return it,” then someone else who also says, “Oh you can get our product and you don’t need to return it, how nice for you!”. We are here kind of in a dynamic of competition, which is a creative dynamic of capitalism, which is actually probably undermining the possibility of the fusion of the benefits of the circular economy. Because new actors will probably enter the game, with the idea of taking advantage of the fact that some do some circular economy to do something else.

CD: Ok, well I don’t know if everyone will agree that what you are describing is going to be the developing scenario but in any event I am happy we could have you to challenge the narrative. We need to make sure we don’t directly drink any concept being served to us indeed.

As always, we’ll try to keep a positive and constructive mindset over the course of this series. You don’t make a new economic model mainstream over night and we are going to focus on showing what works.

We actually received quite a few questions and comments since last year from municipalities and organisations in the Nordics.

[Sound of a pigeon landing – bringing a message]

Ah, here comes another message, someone sent a pigeon this time.
Alright. Thank you. Let’s see.

Dear Camille,
We are ambitious, we like the circular economy vision, we just don’t know how to get started, beyond improving our recycling performance.
Please return the pigeon, his name is “Bruce”.

Ok well, that’s exactly the challenge that we’ve decided to take on with this series: making things practical.
And in order to get as close to the ground as possible, we have selected one sector that we are going to explore in depth to illustrate the Circular Economy in practice: The textile sector, fashion and consumer markets primarily.
That’s for later on in the series.

[Walkie talkie voice]: Guys I have a pigeon to feed here, Can someone take care of it and send him back to where he came from…before he makes a mess on my desk – Oh non Bruce merdeeeeuh dais chier
[Sound of the pigeon]




“Hi, my name is Monika Walfisz. I work as an environmental consultant in the field of environmental impact assessments. I listen to The Green Exchange when biking to work or travel by train, just to stay on top of big issues. And I love the combination of deep knowledge and the laid back atmosphere.”




CD: Let’s begin with what is often the low hanging fruit for municipalities: Tackling municipal waste streams.

Marco Mattiello (MM): Hello

CD: Hello Marco, how are you?

MM: Good. Yourself?

CD: Pretty good, enjoying a good cup of coffee [SILENCE]. Being Italian I am not sure you would call this a ‘good cup of coffee’ though.

MM: [LAUGH] The dirty brown water you mean…

CD: [LAUGH] Could you please tell our listeners who you are, and what organisation you represent?

MM: I am Marco Mattiello and I am the international relations manager for Contarina. Contarina is a waste management company located in the north-eastern part of Italy in the Veneto region, serving 50 municipalities for more than half a million of inhabitants.

CD: Marco your organisation has created a lot of buzz over the last couple of years in Europe because you are reaching quite high recycling rates across the region you cover, no incineration, and very little tonnage of residual waste which is what is left over after recyclables are collected.

MM: Today we are at 85% of recycling rate, less than 55 kilograms of residual waste per inhabitant per year. And with the very ambitious goal to reach, what we call ‘zero waste’, that is 96.7% of recycling rate and 10 kilograms of residual waste per inhabitant per year by year 2022.

CD: So if I live in your region in 2022, I am expected to generate only 10kg of residual waste in one year. That’s less than one kg per month per person. Quite impressive.
So what is your secret?

MM: Yeah, so we apply in all our territory the curbside door-to-door collection, together with the Pay-As-You-Throw fee.

CD: What you call a Pay-As-You-Throw fee system. It’s a system where as a resident or a business, you pay a variable fee based on how much residual waste you produce.

MM: Yes. We give the responsibility to the citizens to produce as little residual waste as possible.

CD: And from what I heard, correct me if I am wrong, the reason why you are so successful is because you constantly focus on minimising this residual waste and understanding what it is made of exactly. And then developing the right technologies or solutions to minimise each one of the streams you collect. Can you illustrate with an example?

MM: So in our residual waste, we have more or less 30% of absorbent hygiene products. So that means diapers for example. And in this moment we are testing a new plant together with an Italian company that produces diapers in order to make these products recyclable, so switching from the residual waste to the recyclable one.

CD: And as we’re trying to get as practical and detailed as possible here, we are featuring on the episode page the full case study where we can learn more about the history of the program, the business model, key success factors, etc.




CD: Marco, I am curious. You encounter a lot of waste management programs around the world, what do you think is missing in other municipalities that you visit?

MM: This is a very interesting question because what is missing is the investment in the citizens. Eco-innovation, being innovative, does not only mean investing in lorries or plants or technologies but also means investing in people. This is why we continuously keep updating people through our eco-journal that we send to our citizens twice per year, our website, our social media we use. And thousand of training sessions in all the schools in our territory because it is essential and it is extremely important to create individual awareness, especially focused on kids or teenagers. Creating individual awareness today means investing for tomorrow. Wherever these people or these kids will be going to live or study or whatever, they will know how to behave. So we are creating constantly, continuously, knowledge and culture about waste management or recycling I would say, sorry, how to recycle properly.

CD: I know cities that will tell you that this is not possible to achieve for them because they play in a different context.

MM: Well this is the typical answer that we receive from all the other municipalities that this is not possible because this and this and this and we are different and so on and so on…. But we noticed that all the municipalities that are asking us for consultancy services all around Italy, they are managing, they are able to replicate our model. The model works. It is only the mentality. You should switch to a different mentality, where it is necessary [to have] an effort made by the waste management company and the public authorities. And on the other side, it is necessary to ask an effort to the citizen also, so you can give them responsibility on how they handle their waste at home. Then the results are excellent.

CD: Marco, thank you for your help, I believe that your points plus the case studies we will publish on the episode page will sound convincing enough to our listeners. Once again, it demonstrates a very practical approach to closing the loop of materials with municipal streams. I feel we can move on to our next mission. Best of luck in reaching your 2022 targets!

MM: Thank you very much, Camille.

CD: And if the 85% target sounds a little too ambitious for you all in the short term, we have a recent case study coming from the City of Parma – also in Italy – showing how to get to a 70% recycling rate within 4 years. Quite impressive to see how municipalities in Italy are leading the way. You’ll also find this case study on our website in the Circular Economy series alongside episode 1.




In any case, if you work with municipal waste or if you’re politician, here is what to do:
• First, take a deep breath. Forget about incineration, forget about landfilling, and dare to plan for the future instead of holding on to the past.
• Work on an ambitious vision and set yearly targets. Work on the mindset of your teams, build a culture.
• Roll out door to door collection for materials that are easiest to recycle: paper, glass, plastic, metals – that should get you to 60 or 70% recycling if you include food waste, which you will need to compost or digest.
• Implement a Pay-As-You-Throw system. This will financially incentivise your citizens to reduce their waste production, and that’s how you will truly reduce the residual fraction in the end.
• Invest in your people. they need to understand, they need to be trained, they need to be inspired. They will follow from there, the same way they are becoming more and more responsible about what they eat.
• Improve everyday. Create jobs on the way, 10 times more than with landfilling and incineration – for the same waste management costs!
• Know exactly what is left in your residual waste stream. And develop solutions that address those leftover materials. For the most problematic products that cannot be recycled: Call manufacturers and tell them “Hey – let’s redesign this, because if you keep producing that sh** product and putting it in on the market we are either going to ban it – or give you enough bad press so people stop buying it.
• Keep advancing your roadmap with consistency and passion and you’ll have closed the loop before you know it.
• Everyone’s on it now, you’re not alone. So join the movement.


As we mentioned earlier, it seems that a good guiding light in this whole discussion is going to be the EU Circular Economy Policy package released in December 2015. We have created a calendar infographic with the key dates and targets we should have in mind for our work in the field if you are in an EU Member State at least.




Talking of which, I am wondering what is going to happen with the UK? They have been a real driving force in advocating for more circularity, with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation of course, WRAP (the Waste & Resource Action Program). Our senior editor Eleen Murphy has been studying the question and can hopefully tell us what “Brexit” means for Circular Economy in the UK.

CD: Hey Eleen are you there?

Eleen Murphy (EM): Hi, yeah. I’m here. Thanks for brining me in.

CD: So, you’ve been studying what Brexit means for UK’s environmental policy, and especially in regards to Circular Economy. What can you tell us today?

EM: Basically there are two scenarios that we can see that will happen, according to our report by the Institute of European Environmental Policy in March this year. Scenario 1 is the UK leaves the EU but stays within the EEA, now that’s the European Economic Area.

CD: Mmmh.

EM: But that means is that the UK will still be meeting the EU Targets under the Waste Framework Directive following the Circular Economy Package. And a lot of environmental policies will apply there as well. And the question is though whether they will do this. Because they will be forced to agree to the EU’s Freedom of Movement rules and that was a big issue during the Brexit campaign. So it’s questionable, we will have to see.

CD: Mmmh.

EM: And Scenario 2 then the UK leaves the EEA and here this would be a problem because it will be likely a major source of pressure for improving waste targets and management in general will be lifted from the UK.

CD: I see.

EM: What is worth mentioning that while the UK reached recycling rates of 43.2% during 2012/2013, it’s generally agreed that England specifically will miss the 2020 target of 50% that’s been reported quite the lot last year, unless the government intervenes. Now if they leave the EEA, in scenario 2 for example, there won’t be really any pressure on government in order to intervene, so a lot of people are thinking that they wouldn’t be surprised that the recycling target relax. So that is a big worry.

CD: Do we know what to expect when it comes to product policy and environmental standards? – I would imagine that if they want to keep trading with the EU, they will have to align, right?

EM: That’s an interesting one actually. It provides a little bit of hope. For example, the Green Alliance’s policy director and chair of the UK Circular Economy Task Force Sue Armstrong Brown, she recently spoke in an event in London and she was very positive that the UK would keep the Circular Economy Package or at least set up their own legislation or similar framework. Since the EU is one of the main markets for the UK, they will have to trade with the EU anyway, probably. And if they do, they will have to agree to a lot of product standards and environmental standards, so there’s a strong case then for the UK to keep complying with the circular economy package in order to meet those standards. And some people have been saying as well that if the UK wants to compete with the EU circular economy at all, they will have to create a strong framework of their own. So there’s hope that they will go that way, eventually.

CD: Interesting. Well thank you Eleen for looking into this.

EM: Alright.

CD: I am sure you’ll be following the progress, you keep us posted?

EM: Yes.

CD: Alright. Speak to you soon. Stay well.

EM: Thanks. See you.




Ok we’re done for this first chapter, but there is more coming up!

Industrial Symbiosis, Product Policy, Consumer Markets, new business models, The Economics of the Circular Economy transition with VERY special guests. Sorry I can’t tell! And as promised a deep dive into the textile & fashion sector.

[VOICE] And all of this is for free?
– Yeah baby.

Now if you don’t want to miss out, click that ‘Subscribe’ button on your favourite podcast app, or drop us your email on, and make sure you catch us on Facebook – – or on Twitter @GreenXEurope.

We’ll be back soon with more green knowledge & inspiration and entertainment maybe?
Keep up the good work, in the meantime.


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