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Expand circular economy to include the underexploited circular bioeconomy

Gain insight into EU, national and regional regulations on waste management; map the interests of different stakeholders in this field; and bring these stakeholders together to recommend steps to support the circular bioeconomy.

The scope of this topic includes ‘bio-based waste’: residual streams that could serve as feedstock for the bio-based industry. Waste-water sludges are excluded from this topic.

Proposals must analyse whether and how EU waste directives and regulations/policies on the circular economy are implemented on a Member State level [7]. They need to take into account that national and regional regulations differ. They may use successful national/regional regulations as best practices. Proposals must analyse whether industry is already adapting to these regulations, and if so how and where they are adapting. Proposals must analyse where bio-based products or processes can benefit from these regulations. Proposals should identify regulatory hurdles for circular use of bio-resources.

Proposals should include industry sectors as well as large and small companies to understand their approach. This would be helpful because in some cases industry acts ahead of regulation (e.g. single-use plastics, and microplastics in home care). Proposals should also include public sectors dealing with, for example, waste management, environmental protection and monitoring, and territorial resources management planning.

Proposals should identify gaps in end-of-life scenarios for materials. These gaps could be either where current regulation is insufficient, or where it only combats symptoms instead of resolving a problem holistically. Proposals should give feedback on these gaps to the stakeholders and draw up recommendations for how to resolve these situations.

Proposals should also make recommendations on how regulations can transpose the EU directives into Member State law, while sustainably supporting the development of a circular bioeconomy.

It is considered that proposals requesting a maximum of EUR 1 million and for a planned duration of not more than 2 years would be able to address this specific challenge appropriately. However, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts or for other durations.

[7] In this context see the OECD report Meeting Policy Changes for a Sustainable Bioeconomy (April 19, 2018)

The circular economy aims to maintain the value of products, materials and resources for as long as possible by returning them into the product cycle at the end of their use, while minimising the generation of waste [1]. The bioeconomy covers all sectors and systems that rely on biological resources (animals, plants, microorganisms and derived biomass, including organic waste), their functions and principles [2].

The circular economy is a concept that has been promoted for more than 20 years [3]. It brings together many interest groups, including stakeholders from the processing industry, waste management industry, recycling industry and others. In the early 1990s, several European countries began passing waste-related laws and regulations, which prompted the European Waste Framework Directive in 2008. New EU waste rules approved in May 2018 [4] require more rigorous enforcement of the waste hierarchy and introduce new requirements for waste management in the European Union.

With the bioeconomy becoming a reality, new interests have come into play, such as those focused on making use of waste streams or residual streams that so far have not been used, or that have only been used for burning as fuel.

This emergence of new interests can lead to potential conflicts of interests or at least to divergences of views as regards strategies to adopt. Some stakeholders focus on waste disposal (via landfill, incineration, etc.). Others focus on waste avoidance (e.g. by using renewable resources, utilising side streams). And others focus on using the materials found in waste. For this last category, regulations preventing the use of waste as a feedstock for other products, or preventing the moving of waste across borders, can be a hurdle. Changes in the waste hierarchy lead to conflicts between different stakeholders. The same conflict can arise when diverting biogenic waste streams from use in power-and-heat generation and composting to bio-based operations for material use.

The description and visualisation of circular economy as a concept mostly refer to the ‘two-winged butterfly’ by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation [5]. Recent discussions on circular bioeconomy lead to different and evolving positions by several actors [6].

It is therefore important to gain an insight into the different interests held by stakeholders about the end-of-life stage for materials. This will make it easier to find ways of moving towards a bioeconomy that fully uses the resources from the circular economy and fully contributes to a circular bioeconomy.

The specific challenge is to reconcile legislation, waste management, circularity and the bioeconomy.

[3] See e.g. the German Law on Circular Economy of 1994.
[6] See e.g.


  • align the bio-based industry’s R&I with relevant regulation, enabling especially SMEs without large in-house strategic departments to achieve pan-European value chain integration and market reach;
  • help bio-based industry to align R&D&I with relevant regulations, and especially help SMEs without large in-house strategic departments to achieve pan-European value chain integration and market reach;
  • inform policy makers and stakeholders from different areas about non-technological hurdles;
  • provide advice to policy makers on key hurdles presented by new regulation and on opportunities for supporting EU goals;
  • prevent knowledge gaps on regulation hindering the market entry of bio-based processes and products;
  • provide opportunities for early-stage projects to evaluate their business case against current and upcoming regulations;
  • help bio-based alternatives to take advantage of the regulatory framework to prove their superiority to fossil-based solutions.

NUMBER OF PROJECTS: a maximum of one project will be funded under this topic.

EXPECTED DURATION: up to 2 years.

TYPE OF ACTION: Coordination and support action.