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Open Data and the Circular Economy

Open data insights can improve decision-making regarding food production, use of resources and reducing pollution

The European Union has made the decision to move away from the traditional economic model (take-make-consume-waste), which thrived during the industrial revolution, to the circular economic model in 2015. The circular economic model is based on the reuse of resources (e.g. products, materials), the regeneration of natural systems and to reduce waste and pollution. In other words, the circular process of the natural living world is adopted in the economy to reduce the negative impact on the environment and the health of all living organisms. The model can be divided in the biological cycle (e.g. designing of compostable packaging) and the technological cycle (e.g. reuse of phone parts). Thereby, the circular economy is dependent on cultural change. For example, subscriptions to services or products (e.g. ridesharing) are better adjusted to the circular economy than the traditional ownership of services or products (e.g. ownership of a car).   

The Circular Economy in Europe

The European Commission has adopted a New Circular Economy Action Plan, which is one of the main corner stones of the European Green Deal, as of 11th March 2020. Open data can provide solutions to achieve the goals of the new strategy by improving decision-making based on data insights.

Building on the initial plans of 2015, the new strategy focuses on the design and production for a circular economy, with the aim to ensure that the resources used are kept in the EU economy for as long as possible.

According to the European Commission, the New Circular Economy Action Plan presents measures to:

  • Make sustainable products the norm in the EU;
  • Empower consumers and public buyers;
  • Focus on the sectors that use most resources and where the potential for circularity is high such as: electronics and ICT, batteries and vehicles, packaging, plastics, textiles, construction and buildings, food, water and nutrients;
  • Ensure less waste;
  • Make circularity work for people, regions, and cities;
  • Lead global efforts on circular economy.

Stakeholders can submit feedback through the public consultation on the New Circular Economy Action Plan until 1 May. This deadline provides time to incorporate any feedback related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open data and the Circular Economy

Insights provided through open data can improve the decision-making of the efficient use of resources as data can predict certain trends (e.g. market, weather, demographics) of future supply and demand. Below are three examples:

  • Sustainable food system: Open data insights can improve efficiency, solve logistical issues and protect food security in the agricultural sector. Thereby, optimal inventory levels can be drawn from data insights in order to reduce (food) waste. Open data on food production, distribution, temperature changes, rising water levels, biodiversity logging and deforestation mapping can improve strategic decision-making to regulate supply and demand in the agricultural sector across Europe. For example, open data research from Smartchain is aimed at developing a shorter food supply chain.  
  • Management of resources and optimizing waste: Insights from (geographical) open data can improve the recycling process of waste. Especially the process of waste separate collection and using the full capacity of the recycling plants can be improved with (open) data insights. Open data is available on the rates of waste and recycling on the municipality level. According to studies from the World Bank, these open datasets create awareness and (government) accountability. This open data is used to improve strategic decision-making on the division of resources and efficient use of recycling plants.
  • Reducing pollution: Open data on (air) pollution has increased awareness on polluted cities and associated health risks. Increased advocacy and awareness have resulted in more research on air pollution in cities in Europe (London, Berlin). Open data on pollution and public health can improve the decision-making process in order to protect the health of EU citizens and the environment. For example, governments and municipalities have taken increasing preventive measures, such as the recent halt to the expansion of the Heathrow airport next to London.

The Circular Economy and COVID-19

During the COVID-19 medical alert, the European Commission has been focusing on keeping the green lanes for waste open so that it can be shipped without delay and can become a resource for another industry. This shipment is essential to maintain Europe’s health – socially and economically –, the natural environment, and to keep the circular economy moving ahead.

To continue support the European economy, it is vital to reduce possible obstacles to cross-border movements of waste within the EU caused by the virus. The goal is to ensure a common approach to securing the continuation of waste shipments across the EU while maintaining a high level of protection of public health and the environment in the exceptional circumstances created by the coronavirus outbreak. In terms of restarting the economy after the lockdowns, the EU plans to continue following the circular economy guidelines and is aiming to install a carbon-low economic model.


For more information or examples on open data and the circular economy, explore the European Data Portal’s (EDP) news archive. Aware of open data and circular economy examples or stories?  Share them with us via mail, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn to stay up to date!