The waste sector's role in a circular economy

The development towards a circular economy requires major changes within the waste sector with focus on direct recycling, reuse and on complete removal of toxic materials. This is the assessment of the managing director of the Danish Waste Association, Jacob Hartvig Simonsen.

A circular economy is a way of thinking production and consumption where the resources are recycled instead of ending up at the disposal site. At the seminar "A circular economy for municipalities and utilities" on 1 February, a number of central players will present how a circular economy will affect waste disposal and product development in the future. Managing director of the Danish Waste Association, Jacob Hartvig Simonsen, is one of the speakers.

The waste sector plays a central role in recycling of resources - both in relation to direct recycling of the products that the citizens regard as waste, but which may be of value to others. This also applies to the waste resources which must be treated before they can be included in the manufacture of new products, or which require further processing for secondary raw materials.

- A circular economy requires major changes within the waste sector with focus on direct recycling and reuse. Focus will also be on how municipalities and waste companies can contribute to obtaining and conveying the resources that companies need for the manufacture of new products. It is not simple to be the link between the citizens' waste bins and the industry, which requests materials with well-defined properties. Development is essential, says Jacob Hartvig Simonsen.

He says that all members of the Danish Waste Association contemplate or are implementing new schemes for collection of reusable waste:

- For instance, focus will be on the seven different waste categories - plastic, paper, cardboard, metal, wood, glass and organic waste - of which minimum 50 % must be reused in 2022. At the same time, our members are all very concerned about generating the maximum environmental, climate and socio-economic gains on their efforts. And here it is certainly not irrelevant whether a kilo of copper or potato peels is reused. The environmental gain by reusing a kilo of copper is far bigger than the gain of reusing a kilo of potato peels. The members are concerned that the effort is effective. We do not want to collect waste only for the purpose of the collection. The material collected must be used for manufacturing new products and thereby replace the use of virgin material.

However, not all waste can be recirculated. It is therefore also a major task for the waste sector to ensure maximum utilisation of the resources, which it does not make sense to reuse from an environmental, climate or socio-economic point of view; e.g. products containing undesired pollutants such as POP substances (persistent organic pollutants), which must be removed from circulation, or products which cannot be separated.

- We advocate maximum reuse and have to acknowledge at the same time that many of the products surrounding us today are not suitable for reuse. The amount of waste for energy production is therefore substantial today and will be so for many years to come. Concurrently with the increasing reuse in Denmark and the EU, substantial amounts of waste products will also be generated from the reuse operation - so-called reject, which has to be energy-recoverable, says Jacob Hartvig Simonsen.


Rikke Søgaard Berth


Line Markert


Henriette Soja