ISO appoints committee to propel global circular economy
World economies can no longer ignore the consequences of basing economic growth on material consumption and resource depletion. Every country should be concerned about climate change and the possibility of resource scarcity. But how do organisations go about taking steps in the right direction — towards economic frameworks that are restorative and regenerative?
A newly appointed International Organization for Standardization (ISO) technical committee (TC) aims to make the global circular economy a reality by steering projects towards a sustainable agreed global standard. Known as ‘ISO/TC 323 — Circular Economy’ the committee will develop requirements, frameworks, guidance and support tools, with the aim of ensuring implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The TC comprises experts from over 65 countries, with Australia sitting as an observer member.
Any organisation, or group of organisations, wishing to implement circular economy projects, for example, commercial organisations, public services and not-for-profit organisations, is welcome to benefit from the deliverables available from ISO.
Committee Chair Catherine Chevauche commented that although many organisations ‘do their bit’ in terms of recycling or sourcing locally, we are far from a world where the economy is truly circular. “In order to have a new economic model, businesses need a new business model — what has been lacking is a truly global vision of what a circular economy really is and a model that any organisation can adopt.”
Establishment of the technical committee
AFNOR, the French national standards body and appointed secretariat of the ISO TC, made the original proposal to ISO for the establishment of a TC to focus on standardisation in the circular economy, recognising the need for a dedicated generic standard involving all countries.
In their proposal to ISO, AFNOR outlined that applying circular economy principles in processes, products and services would enable organisations to optimise resource management and implement new business models to improve resilience to environmental, social and economic challenges.
The standard is based on seven areas of action of the circular economy to create a working roadmap:
- Sustainable procurement
- Industrial symbiosis/ecology
- Functional economy
- Sustainable consumption
- Extension of service life
- Effective management of materials and products at the end of their life cycle.
A key target for the TC is to develop standards for future management systems and to provide organisations with a clear vision of the circular economy. With this in mind, the ISO/TC 323 aims to lead organisations towards favourable strategic choices.
A set of standards will help organisations integrate new economic models led by the circular economy; facilitate communication between stakeholders via shared dialogue and communication tools; allow sharing of experiences to contribute to a collective, pooled knowledge base; and steer focus towards concrete actions.
Although some international standards related to the circular economy are already in place, the new TC will develop a holistic and international approach for circular economy projects by considering interactions between all the elements contributing to sustainable development. For example, public procurement, production and distribution, resource end of life, as well as areas such as behavioural change and assessment will be addressed.
The circular economy and sustainable development
A circular economy can contribute to the achievement of several SDGs including clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; and climate action.
In the context of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the UN SDGs, economies worldwide must transform existing linear ‘make, consume, throw’ systems to models that focus on waste reduction, recycling and, where possible, transformation of waste into new products.
The global circular economy will be a powerful player in the fight against climate change, with waste reduction and recycling having the potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from combustion (CO2) and decomposition (methane).
Chevauche stressed the urgency to move towards a circular economy in response to the effects of resource and biodiversity depletion, climate change and the growing inequalities across countries related to the world’s production and consumption patterns.
“The members of the committee agree that there is a need to act now to develop standards in this area as quickly as possible,” she said.
“This is particularly true in developing countries, who have tended to bear the brunt of inequalities of wealth and waste in the developed world.”
What is happening in Australia?
The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) is developing a voluntary Recyclers’ Accreditation Program (RAP). The accreditation initiative was approved as part of ACOR’s Agenda 19 workplan of projects to foster domestic demand and markets for collected recyclate.
According to ACOR, the program will aim to ensure:
- high standards of operational performance and accountability in Australian recycling activity;
- stakeholder, community and investor confidence in Australian recycling activity;
- complementary arrangements to policy directions and regulatory obligations for Australian recycling activity;
- continual improvement in recovery rates from Australian recycling activity.
What RAP aims to cover
The program aims to address the collection and transport of recyclable materials from the Australian domestic, commercial and industrial, and construction and demolition sectors; the sorting, pre-treatment and storage of collected recyclable materials from those sectors; the remanufacture of collected material into recycled content products; and the management of supply chain relationships, including those with export partners.
RAP will reference the following to develop the program:
- International practices in accreditation and performance standards for the recycling industry, including existing and emerging schemes.
- Existing and/or overlapping Australian schemes such as those for tyre and e-waste recyclers, as well as product stewardship schemes.
- ‘Spheres of influence’ in the recycling supply chain and what Australian recyclers can or cannot directly control in performance terms, including ‘loss’ rates to residual waste from collected material that is contaminated.
- The ‘proximity principle’ in relation to waste management.
- Establishment of industry benchmarks for the purposes of the Queensland waste disposal levy’s concessional arrangements for recycling residuals and other potential public policy arrangements.
- Local, state, federal, international and trading partner legal, regulatory and policy requirements, including those regarding the international movement and handling of materials.
The recycling sector will be extensively consulted in the design of the program. Independent third parties will be involved in determining accreditation achievement and its maintenance, which will include regular non-notified and notified inspection audits of facilities. Regular public reporting of accreditation scheme results and achievements will be incorporated into the system and alignment with an accreditation services provider is an option for consideration.
ACOR added that in applicable cases, export documentation and supply chain provenance arrangements will be reviewed as part of the accreditation process, as well as material mass balance calculation and analysis.
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