At the end of November over one hundred participants from thirteen European countries met in Charleroi, Belgium, to discuss the role of social enterprise in a circular economy. The conference organised by RREUSE demonstrated the key social and environmental impact of re-use and explored different forms of collaboration between social enterprise, public authorities and the private sector.
The event coincided with the ongoing implementation of the European Commission’s circular economy package, where final touches to updated EU waste laws were being applied as well as the launch of a brand new EU circular economy stakeholder platform.
The conference included interventions by EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella (video) as well as representatives from the EU institutions, government officials, social economy actors, and private companies including major brands.
The event mapped the landscape of re-use activities in Europe and showed concrete cases of support for re-use through legislation and partnerships within the waste management chain and beyond. Examples of measures to support re-use that could be replicated at EU level were presented such as a separate preparing for re-use target recently set in Wallonia. Furthermore, the French producer responsibility scheme Eco-systèmes highlighted the importance of collaboration with major social enterprise networks, notably through facilitating access to discarded goods and communication campaigns promoting waste prevention actions.
Looking at interesting future sectors of work, the Austrian social enterprise network Repanet presented compelling results of innovation in the field of re-use of construction and demolition waste, following positive evolution in Austrian law supporting such activities.
The social impact of re-use was looked at from different angles, from tackling recent challenges such as the refugee crisis to the ever-present fight against unemployment, social exclusion and poverty.
Recognising the tremendous social impact of the re-use sector, especially involving social enterprise, was a key factor behind partnerships with local authorities and the private sector. This was confirmed by the Dutch paints and coatings multinational AkzoNobel who are behind community paint re-use projects in the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands, where helping the environment and society by donating paint leftovers is easily understood by citizens and key for the initiatives success and future development.
Nevertheless, demonstrating social impacts both quantitatively and qualitatively is a known challenge. This is why AERESS, the Spanish association of social and solidarity enterprises active in re-use and recycling, presented their work on measuring the often unmeasurable and breathing humanity into statistics. Similar to their user-friendly online tool that calculates CO2 emission saved by re-using, a new calculator they are developing aims to show how many jobs can be supported through the re-use of different goods and how it positively changes the lives of individuals involved in these activities. These social impact initiatives will go a long way to further develop relationships between social enterprise and local authorities and complement key support tools such as the use of both social clauses within public procurement, which was also a key point of discussion with the audience.
From an environmental standpoint, the use of quality standards in the re-use sector was also highlighted as an important way to demonstrate quality of service to local authorities as well giving confidence to the consumer in buying second hand, emphasised in particular by Zero Waste Scotland in a presentation on their successful Revolve programme.
Finally the European Commission’s DG Employment presented the wider context of how the EU Commission is delivering and developing support for social enterprise both from a policy and financing perspective.
Re-use and repair plays a major role in the EU transition to a circular economy where less is wasted and the value of products and materials is kept on the highest possible level. The two day event was testament to this and on this will to do more through strong collaboration between social enterprise and the public and private sector, backed by clear legislation for the sector.
RREUSE is grateful for the kind support of our sponsors:
The preparations for the 2018 RREUSE annual conference are already underway.
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- Event website
- Video message from Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
- Words of welcome from Antigone Dalamaga, RREUSE President (pdf)