Circular Economy

What is it?

Global demand for raw materials is rising, in particular in emerging economies. Commodity prices skyrocketed in 2008. In this context the security of access to primary and secondary non-energy raw materials gained an unprecedented political interest.

The political attention paid to natural resources steadily increased since the adoption in 2005 of a Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources which aims at reducing the environmental impacts of resource use in a growing economy. In addition, in April 2007, the Ad Hoc Group 10 of the EC High Level Group (HLG) on Competitiveness, Energy and the Environment was dedicated to Natural Resources, Secondary Raw Materials and Waste. The HLG 4th Report called on the EU and the Member States (MS) to develop a Raw Materials Policy.


Circular economy objective is to maintain the value of products and materials for as long as possible, minimizing waste and using products that reached their end of life to create further value. Within a policy context, the concept of circular economy aims to transform the economy from a linear to a circular model, by promoting and putting into practice the recycling, recovery and re-use of end applications.

The mining sector has embraced the concept of circular economy in its own processes, minimizing the negative impacts on the environment, the society and maximizing its favourable impact on the overall economy. Action at EU level can support the work done by the private sector driving investment, creating a level playing field and removing obstacles stemming from European legislation and its inadequate enforcement.

The IMA-Europe’s Circular Economy report presents projects from industrial minerals companies contributing to the circular economy throughout the different life cycle stages of the minerals: extraction, manufacturing, transport, use phase and end of life. The report is available for download here.

The Raw Materials Initiative

On 4 November 2008 a Communication on “The Raw Materials Initiative – Meeting our critical needs for growth and jobs in Europe” was adopted. The communication proposes that the EU develops an integrated raw materials strategy based on three major pillars:

  • Ensure access to raw materials from international markets under the same conditions as other industrial competitors;
  • Set the right framework conditions within the EU in order to foster sustainable supply of raw materials from European sources;
  • Boost overall resource efficiency and promote recycling to reduce the EU’s consumption of primary raw materials and decrease the relative import dependence.

European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials

In view of promoting innovation in the non-energy, non-agricultural raw material sectors, the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Raw Materials was launched in 2012.  The EIP RM brings together all stakeholders – Member States, companies, NGOs, researchers, etc. – in view of developing common strategies, joint resources and ensure the development and implementation of innovative solutions along the entire value chain of raw materials. The underlying objective of the Partnership is to make Europe the world leader in exploration, extraction, processing, recycling and substitution by 2020. To know more about the EIP, here is the link to DG Grow’s page.

The EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy

The action plan of December 2015 outlines a set of general and material-specific actions, facing specific challenges due to the particularities of the value chains. DG Grow cooperates with other departments of the Commissions on the following areas:

  • Product design
  • Production processes
  • Consumption
  • From waste to resources (secondary raw materials)
  • Innovation, investment and other cross cutting issues

As part of the implementation of the action plan, in January 2018 the Commission also adopted a new set of measures: