Trade & investment

Policy Brief: Circular material flows for research and innovation

  • 1 June 2023

Circular material flows for research and innovation

This policy brief takes a deep dive into the potential of the circular economy and the role of innovation in waste management with a focus on challenges in shipping waste for research purposes. It includes case studies that demonstrate how current laws and regulations impact company investments in circular innovations.

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The goal of a circular economy is to optimise resource efficiency, keeping products and materials in use as long as possible, thereby reducing waste.

The need for the circular economy is heightened with the increasing demand for critical raw materials and challenges in supplying them. Companies have taken steps to recover and recycle these materials from waste streams. Yet, more circular solutions in waste management remain to be explored.

Why waste is key to circular innovation

Cross-border waste movement is critical to developing circular economy approaches. For companies focusing on raw material recovery and/or recycling from waste streams, this allows them to import waste, develop their businesses, leverage economies of scale and access waste unavailable in their countries.

However, this movement faces restrictions due to existing laws and regulations that are still geared towards a linear economy. There are particular issues when it comes to moving waste for research and innovation purposes since the final process is not yet up and running. Most regulations only allow the movement of a certain number of kilos for such purposes even though tons are needed to test and pilot procedures for the design of the equipment and facilities.

What are barriers to using and shipping waste?

The current legal and regulatory frameworks pose a direct barrier to investment in circular solutions, thus limiting the growth of a circular economy even though there is a critical need for solutions to address the triple planetary crisis – climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, pollution. The solution to this challenge lies in creating an enabling environment for the circular economy to thrive.

Here are our recommendations to facilitate research and innovation for a better future for all:

  1. Establish a process for continuous private sector input: Businesses pioneering circular solutions should be consulted in the policymaking process to ensure regulations are implementable and enabling.
  2. Prioritise quality over origin: Regulations should focus on the quality of materials rather than their origin.
  3. Promote strategic material banks: Legal provisions should allow extended storage periods for materials that may be recyclable or extractable in the future.
  4. Remove barriers and create incentives for circular innovation: Laws regarding waste and transport need to treat waste as a key raw material in circular economies.

The International Chamber of Commerce, along with Swedish Enterprise, is committed to making waste shipment regulations work for research and innovation. We’re ready to contribute with the voice of the real economy to accelerate the circular economy.

To learn more about our policy brief and how we can overcome barriers in waste shipment for research and innovation, download our report.

Together, we can build a more sustainable future.

For more information please contact:

Florence Binta Diao-Gueye, Lead, Trade & Customs, ICC