Circular economy opportunities in Belgium

Belgium shows interesting characteristics for doing business with in the field of circular economy. With its GDP ranking 24th in the world, a geographically favorable location and having ambitious circular economy and waste management goals, Belgium-Dutch collaboration is not unlikely.

Thinking about doing business in Belgium? Below you will find information on policy landscape, circular economy strategy and selected priority areas!

An overview of the most important information for business in Belgium

Facts & Figures

Economic indicators

  • Population (2019): 11,46 mln 
  • Nominal GDP (2019): €473 085 mln, world rank: 24th  
  • Purchasing power (2018): €43 4981 
  • Import from the NL (2018): €50,2 milliard 
  • Economic growth (2018): 1,4% 
  • Ease of doing business rank (2020): 46/190 
  • Corruption index (2019): 17/198 
  • Unemployment rate (2019): 5,4% 
  • Currency:  
  • Time difference NL: +0.00 hrs 

Circular economy indicators

  • Global innovation index (2019): 23/129 
  • Municipal waste recycling rate (2018): 54.6% 
  • Circular material use rate (2017): 17.8% 

Policy landscape

EU level

In 2015 European Commission adopted the Circular Economy Action Plan, which included comprehensive measures addressing waste management. The EU laws set minimum recycling, landfilling, material recovery and renewable energy consumption targets. Among other initiatives introduced in the Plan is the plastics strategy which aims to ban and reduce consumption of certain types of single-use plastic. New Circular Economy Action Plan adopted in March 2020 will aim among others to facilitate circularity in textile industry and production of electronic equipment. Belgium transposes timely EU legislation on CE and performs above EU average on attaining some of their targets. Particularly, the country ranks 1st in EU in packaging waste recycling. 

Currently main targets include: 

  • min. 65% of municipal waste to be recycled by 2035 
  • min. 70% of all packaging waste to be recycled by 2030 
  • max. 10% of municipal waste to be landfilled by 2035 
  • certain types of single use plastic will be prohibited to place on market as of July 2021 
  • min. 32 % of the Union’s gross final consumption of energy to originate from renewable sources by 2030 

 

National level

Belgium has adopted national CE strategy in 2014. The Roadmap contains 21 measures that aim to increase the potential of the circular economy by sharing and repairing products and sustainable waste management.

 

Regional level

Flemish region

The Government of Flanders adopted strategy Vision 2050 which set CE as one of the seven transition priorities. Circular Flanders, initiated by OVAM, currently uses an approach of ‘Green Deals’, where participants set up circular pilot projects and share knowledge. Knowledge institutes explore identified systemic barriers and opportunities to result in policy recommendations. Via ‘Green Deal Circular Purchasing’ initiated in 2017, 150 organizations committed themselves to transition to circular procurement. ‘Green Deal Circular Construction launched in 2019 sets up large-scale testing grounds with demo projects and living labs, to explore innovation in circular construction, demolition techniques and regeneration of excavated soil. 

 

Walloon Region

CE is one of the major political priorities as it is reflected in the political in Regional Policy Declaration for Wallonia (2019-2024). In January 2020 Walloon government set out to develop a new CE strategy, which is expected to be unveiled by the end of 2020. Through its regional executive organisation SRIW the government intends to develop an industrial sector for plastic recycling with the ambition of gaining a leading position in Europe. To this end, Wallonia will invest 60 million through public-private partnerships. 

 

Brussels-Capital Region

CE strategy, adopted in 2016, sets a 10-year framework to move Brussels’ economy towards a circular model. The strategy is focused on 3 objectives: transform environmental goals into economic opportunities, anchor the Brussels economy, where possible, to local produce and to minimise transportation whilst optimising the use of available territory in order to create additional value for the people of Brussels and to contribute to the creation of employment.

We see three priority areas when it comes to circular economy opportunities and need: construction & infrastructure, sustainable design for packaging and circular offshore windfarms

Dutch Embassy in Belgium

Circular construction and Infrastructure

Transition to circular construction is a priority both for Belgium and the Netherlands, which lays down the basis for mutually beneficial cooperation. One of the challenges for Belgium is to replace where possible demolition with renovation. In Flanders, especially the Antwerp area a great deal of focus will be on infrastructural projects, which typically have a significant environmental footprint. At the same time, large parts of existing infrastructure require renovation as well and there is a growing need for additional infrastructure that is safe, durable and economically viable. Circular business models that increase modularity, buy-back guarantees by infrastructure companies, objects as a service and new lifetime-oriented consortium between infrastructure companies and their customers might offer inspiration.

Belgium is home to numerous producers of construction materials and technologies that respond to the changing needs with regard to comfort, safety, and environment. The Netherlands is, in its turn, innovative in creating circular business models that include the entire value chain, with a focus on long-term design thinking and technology. Opportunities for Dutch-Belgian cooperation are provided among others within the Flemish Circular Construction Green Deal. Among potential topics for such collaboration could be research on material passport, concrete recycling and modular construction. 

Sustainable design for packaging

Both countries are signatories of the European Plastics Pact. Belgium has a large polymer industry and there is a great interest in making it more sustainable, to which circular design for packaging can contribute. On a national level a platform PreventPack provides tools and services aimed to support transition to circularity in packaging. Flemish eco-design platform advises and inspires designers by providing access to an extensive case database as well as raises awareness in academia about the importance of sustainable design via guest lectures and community building. The Netherlands being a frontrunner in research on circular design could offer its expertise both for educational sector and the industry. 

Circular offshore windfarms

Renewable energy, including offshore wind, is a top priority in Belgium and the Netherlands alike. Offshore wind sector expected to show exponential growth, poses challenges like access to rare metals, and lowering the sustainable impact during lifetime. Belgian offshore wind sector is one of Europe’s leading energy sectors1, therefore, it was among the first ones to face the challenge of sustainable decommissioning of the windmills. An estimated yearly influx of offshore blade waste in Belgium is about 1400 tons, starting with +/- 15 ton in 2030. However, currently, no concrete policy, knowledge, experiences or supply chain regarding the dismantling of offshore wind farms is available in Belgium, neither among the companies nor among the governments. Developing new circular or modular offshore windfarms designed for reuse or remanufacturing and recycling solutions for composites might not only increase sustainability of the sector but also open up a huge export market for the Netherlands (particularly in Flemish region) where such solutions are already being designed with the support of knowledge institutes (TNO, TU Delft4 and Hogeschool Windesheim) and Versnellingshuis Nederland Circulair.

Sustainable chemistry & bio-economy

Belgian chemical sector was traditionally strong and now it aspires to become more sustainable and foster bio-economy. Wallonia offers a skilled workforce, advanced industrial environment and academic R&D expertise. It received support from the European Sustainable Chemicals Support Service and develops sector of polymer-wood composite materials and high-performance plant fibers with low environmental impact for the development of light bio-composites. Flanders, together with North Rhine Westphalia (DE) and the Netherlands is home to one of the world’s most powerful chemical industry cluster. Trilateral strategy for the chemical industry adopted by three regions strives to become the world’s engine for the transition towards a sustainable and competitive chemical industry cluster. Despite the fact that much cross-border Dutch-Belgian cooperation is already taking place (e.g., within the framework of European funded projects), in order to achieve more ambitious goals, cooperation with the Netherlands is explicitly mentioned as an opportunity.