What role does the circular economy play in creating sufficiency? 

How might circular hubs, active partnerships and behavioural interventions create the kind of circular economy that people deserve: one that provides enough for everyone, always.

The World Circular Economy Forum 2024, held in Brussels between the 15 and 18th of April, provided answers, and left us with even more questions to explore. Organizers of the event included Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, Circle Economy Foundation, the International Resource Panel, the Belgian EU Presidency Team and the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform (ECESP) of which the Rediscovery Centre is a coordinating member.

Our Director of Policy & Research Claire Downey and Circular Economy Policy & Research Communicator Steve O’Reilly hit the cobbled streets of the Belgian capital to represent Ireland on panel discussions, facilitate workshops, launch podcasts, showcase Irish circular developments, and bring international circular insights home.

The World Circular Economy Forum 2024, held in Brussels

Day 1...

…began with a bang.

A session and workshop coordinated by the ECESP brought participants together to explore the positive outcomes and tricky pitfalls of network building and proactive collaboration. Following opening remarks from Freek van Eijk, Ladeja Godina Kosir, Cillian Lohan and Paola Migliorini, the Rediscovery Centre team facilitated a number of tables through a discursive workshop.\

Following this warm up session, an opening plenary asked how we might meet our wellbeing needs without accelerating material consumption. In particular, a striking presentation from Janez Potočnik, Co-chair of the International Resource Panel (IRP) threw down the challenge of meeting human needs in the most energy and resource efficient ways, including through demand side solutions like behaviour change interventions, and taking highlights from the recently published Global Resources Outlook 2024.

Claire Downey and Steve O'Reilly take over the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform booth

The Rediscovery Centre team then took to the expo floor for a temporary takeover of the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform booth. At the takeover, Claire and  Steve, along with Mariana Nicolau of the Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production, launched three brand new episodes of the Circular Behaviour Podcast. This micro-podcast series co-presented by Claire and Mariana explores the question of how we might instill circular behaviour change, taking examples from best practice around Europe. Listen in to our interviews with Esra Tat of Zero Waste EuropeOdile le Bolloch from the EPA’s Stop Food Waste Initiative, and Veerle Labeeuw of Circular Flanders, and look out for new podcast episodes coming soon, recorded with special guests at the World Circular Economy Forum 2024.

Day 2...

…began with another eye-opening plenary, exploring the potential geopolitical tensions and risks that may result from the shift from a linear to a circular model, and from interdependent to more protectionist economic systems.

The following plenary and panel discussion kept up this high bar, diving into the detail of Critical Raw Materials. Our very own Claire Downey spoke on a panel with Peter Tom Jones of KU Leuven Institute for Sustainable Metals and Minerals, Rikarnto Bountis of the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation, and Susanne van Berkum of TNO, facilitated by Pep Rosenfeld. The session also opened with talks from the European Economic and Social Committee’s (EESC) Florian Marin and Karl Vrancken of Indaver.
At the session, Claire discussed the importance of curbing demand and prioritizing sufficiency, the need to  engage citizens and support social enterprise to make the circular initiatives that can decrease our need for such Critical Raw Materials. Claire also shared Ireland’s ambitious statutory reuse targets with the global audience present. Watch Claire’s contribution to the session here.

Claire Downey and Peter Tom Jones of KU Leuven discuss Critical Raw Materials on the WCEF24 main stage.

The Rediscovery Centre’s attendance at a session on behaviour change was cut short by a surprise visit from Ireland’s Minister with Responsibility for the Circular Economy, Ossian Smyth TD. Claire and Steve were happy to share their findings from the conference with the Minister, along share a cup of coffee with him and Cillian Lohan of the EESC.

The day closed with the announcement that Brazil would host the World Circular Economy Forum in 2025, alongside the launch of a new initiative from the European Commission: the European Circular Economy Resource Centre. This initiative will work alongside the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform to create the nexus of collaboration across the world: a place of sharing policy and business know-how globally.

Day 3...

…saw the Rediscovery Centre attend a day of events hosted by the Belgian EU Presidency, including a bike tour around the city to see circularity in action. This voyage around the capital included a pitstop at Circularium, where 150 people work to convert this enormous ex-car-dealership building into an outstanding circular hub. Circularium brings together a wide range of circular enterprises, including shared storage space for building materials, furniture, an event space, as well as workshop spaces for reconditioning and reusing. The tour continued to the brilliant Dream Kitchen – a community kitchen using rescued fruit and vegetables from the century-old food market next door. This kitchen saves up to 6 tonnes a week, providing inclusive access to cooking and food through a “pay what you can” model. The organization even hosts an e-bike-drawn mobile kitchen used to teach cooking for free around the city.

The conference ended as it began, with a session from the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, this time showcasing the importance of “circular hubs”, highlighting the many and multifaceted roles that local, national and international circular economy hubs play. A series of pitches was followed by a panel session,  with Karel Vanderpoorten of DG Grow underscoring the importance of social enterprises in creating the foundations for a thriving circular economy.

With panel discussions held, workshops facilitated, podcasts launched, radio shows recorded, freezing bike journeys taken and several unexpected surprises (including accidentally discovering the coolest pub in Brussels with our friends from CIRCULEIRE, Right to Repair and the Circular Economy Institute) it really was a forum to remember. Find out more about the World Circular Economy Forum 2024, with links to recorded sessions here.