05. More circular economy, better disposal and management of waste

The circular economy is about moving from a linear production to methods of production where materials are kept in a circuit and the need for new raw materials is reduced.

Specific focus areas are, among others, a longer lifetime for products, waste management, plastic recycling and basing materials on biomass, such as wood or bioplastics.

The Climate Partnership for Waste, Water and Circular Economy has assessed that, with initiatives in this area, Denmark can reduce global emissions by 7-9m tonnes CO2e of which emissions in Denmark constitute 2.4m tonnes.

danisk trade union confederation

The assessment is based on an optimistic vision for 90% recycling. However, even if the potential is less than that, the circular economy will be significant. The sorting and recycling of plastics alone can reduce emissions from waste energy plants by 0.7m tonnes CO2e.

The circular economy holds the potential for Danish companies to become more resource-efficient and competitive.

Among other things, Copenhagen Economics has previously assessed that the average potential in improving resource consumption in Danish companies amounts to DKK 5-11bn a year[16].

Strengthened competitiveness and exports can increase employment and assign Denmark the role of a pioneer country[17].

Many of the jobs that the circular economy could potentially create would be in rural districts and they would therefore contribute to creating more balance in Danish society. This applies to, for example, the expansion of biogas and the establishment of biorefinery plants.

A more circular economy, however, will require development and dissemination of new ways of thinking and business models among both authorities, companies and households. In this connection, there is a substantial need for more knowledge, knowledge-sharing and coordination.

National strategy for the circular economy

A national strategy for the circular economy that includes includes bioeconomics should be adopted. The backbone of the strategy must be a mission that ensures that, by 2030, Denmark must transform biomass and waste to high-value products. Among other things, the strategy must:

  • Analyse amounts and distribution of waste and biomass, including biogas, and prioritise their use.
  • Assess the need for the expansion of plants, infrastructure and research.
  • Set out objectives, including addressing export opportunities, EU-regulation and sources of investment.
  • Strengthen investments and framework conditions and underpin the demand for circular products.
  • Focus on skills and training, as recommended by the Climate Partnership for Waste, Water and Circular Economy.
  • Contain guarantees for a good working environment which takes health and safety into consideration which is also described in the chapter “Green jobs – with a safe and healthy work environment”.
  • Ensure coordination in this area – which be necessary since value chains cut across sectors and players.

Initiatives that underpin the circular economy

The strategy must be underpinned by a number of specific proposals as shown in box 7. The initiatives must be seen in connection with the other proposals that will also underpin a circular economy.

These are, for example, more research, socially sustainable public procurement, dissemination of life cycle analyses (LCA) and establishment of biorefineries. See figure 7 for an illustration of this.

A reform of the waste management system

Better management of waste and materials, including plastics, is a precondition for more recycling and has been recommended by a number of climate partnerships. A reform of the waste management system should be implemented.

It should harmonize municipal waste management systems, and make it mandatory for households, public institutions, companies, kitchens and canteens to sort waste. At the same time, it is crucial that the waste management reform safeguards health and safety at work.

Pooling and sharing of knowledge

The shift in mentality and business models that the circular economy entails requires authorities and businesses to share knowledge – both regarding challenges, solutions, best practices and how companies can gain access to materials. A partnership should be established in which the state takes on a coordinating role.

Among other things, the partnership must develop new proposed standards and solutions and educate, inspire and support businesses. Finally, the platform must provide guidance on relevant materials and show how companies and municipalities can get access to them – among other things by setting up a data bank where recyclable materials are registered for use.

The first step could include building materials which, purportedly, account for 35% of the total waste volume and has significant recycling potential.


The development of new green materials

New materials must be developed to convert waste and biomass to high-value products. This can, for example, be biopolymers from biomass to replace fossil fuels in plastics production.

The development can be underpinned by green procurement (see above), however funds should also be set aside for development, demonstration and scaling.

For a start, funds to the extent of DKK 2bn should be provided in the form of subsidies, loans and/or guarantees under the Danish Green Investment Fund which already has a capacity of DKK 25bn and which is set to become operational in 2020.

It can be expected that there will be a great potential for mobilising private investments since new materials, solutions and cost savings in the area of circular economy can entail financial return.

By 2030, Denmark must be able to transform biomass and waste into high-value products


Box 7: FH proposes

  1. A strategy for the circular economy
  2. Reform of the waste management system, including standardisation of management and sorting
  3. A requirement for increased use of garden and park waste for biogas production
  4. A partnership and platform that collects and shares knowledge
  5. Development of climate-friendly materials

Read more at: https://fho.dk/tekniskbaggrundsnotat

Literature reference

[16]    Copenhagen Economics (2013), ”Resource productivity and competitiveness in Danish manufacturing companies”.

[17]    See ”Potential for Denmark as a circular economy” by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015.

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