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Benefits of circular economy for RTOs
The potential environmental benefits arising from using less energy and material inputs, combined with the economic opportunities created by new technologies and products have fuelled research interest in circular economy. SMEs benefit from this interest, as they see that circular economy could also be an opportunity for improving their business models while offering more sustainable and attractive products to their consumers.
SMEs struggle to make R&D innovations by themselves. Their lack of capacity and financial resources leads them to, in many cases, rely on the specific expertise of research and technical organisations (RTO). Hence, the role of RTOs in circular economy is to achieve incremental and ground-breaking innovations, which would then be applied by SMEs in their day-to-day business. On the other hand, most RTOs depend on public funding for developing their competences and build on capacity, including the equipment and infrastructure required for them.
Circular economy needs more than traditional R&D and requires a holistic approach for the related technologies: it needs changes in entire systems and joint efforts by researchers, technology centres, industry and SMEs, the primary sector, entrepreneurs, users, governments and civil society. In addition, favourable regulatory frameworks should be enabled in order to foster additional public and private investments.
The ambitious circular economy package adopted by the EC is covering the whole cycle: production, consumption, waste management and secondary raw materials. The focus of research should be then to make sure that these areas are covered with technological breakthroughs and cost-efficient solutions for transforming the current practices and business-models.1
Within the whole cycle of circular economy, the topic can be broken down into the following main processes:
In addition to the more traditional applications of the circular economy (e.g. mechanical recycling), new processes are unfolding on many fronts, such as chemical recycling, closing loops for nutrients, water reuse and use of wood-based side streams in by-product applications. 2
RTO have research opportunities in the following areas:
Circular economy business models represent a significant investment opportunity. Through the different research areas, RTO can look for different measures to help companies to implement cleaner production, minimising emissions and simultaneously raising competitiveness. Moreover, the most appropriate indicators could be analysed per sector in order to establish a homogeneous database criterion to be applied in different situations and countries. This is especially relevant for Central Europe, in which different strategies would be able to be evaluated as a whole.
During this process, RTO should consider the most appropriate ways to disseminate their knowledge. The exchange of information and experiences with companies and other institutions should be fostered to broaden knowledge and strengthen collaborations. It is of particular interest to analyse success stories of those companies that incorporate new management strategies related to circular economy, to motivate and encourage other companies to take these models as references 3
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