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Agnieszka Sznyk: The circular economy is all about localism

14 of March '23

Circular economy is a novelty in Poland, although in the context of recycling we are ahead of countries we associate with environmentalism. Circularity, however, is a much broader concept, so it is worth talking about it in context.

How do we not starve the economy and at the same time transform it into a low-carbon one? Is recycling just throwing in the right garbage cans? Where are we in terms of reusing resources, and how can this become a goal in the future of industries such as construction?

We ask Dr. Agnieszka Sznyk, president of INNOWO – Institute for Innovation and Responsible Development, who will be a speaker at the Polish Climate Congress.

Wiktor Bochenek: What is circularity in today's economy?

Dr. Agnieszka Sznyk: Circularity is about sustainable use of resources and keeping the value of products and materials as high as possible for as long as possible. We need to focus on producing items and products that have the greatest possible lifespan — ones that we can use for a long time.

I always say that the circular economy is not just about waste management. The circular economy strives to have as little waste as possible, and the same is true in nature, where everything is used life cycle.

dr Agnieszka Sznyk podczas prezentacji raportu

Dr. Agnieszka Sznyk — expert on sustainable development and socio-economic development of society. She has been involved in the NGO community for years, having worked for WWF for many years. Author of numerous reports.


Wiktor: If you had to summarize why we should think about introducing such solutions?

Agnieszka: We have to think about them, because in a while we will run out of raw materials. Of course, at the moment there are many opponents to changing this direction, which is due to convenience and getting used to the existing economic model. The paradox is that we are buying acorrer and larger apartments in order to have space to store more and more things, in fact often completely unnecessary to us. We need to be aware that the world population is growing at a very fast pace, about every twelve years another billion people appear. Let's see how much pressure we are putting on the nature of our planet. However, raw materials are finite — we can't use them in indefinite quantities for an indefinite period of time.

With so much pressure from humanity, these resources may run out. That doesn't mean we have to sacrifice our daily comfort and return to the forest to live in a shack. It's about consuming wisely — changing business models and putting pressure on producers to produce sustainably. In the linear economic model, we produce as much as possible, as fast as possible, and poor quality determines economic growth by selling as much product as possible, which leads to excessive consumerism.

Wiktor: Can we introduce elements of a circular economy while maintaining a certain standard of living and its growth?

Agnieszka: Of course we can! For example, move in many cases from an ownership model to a subscription, rental or sharing model. Except for people who drive professionally, we use our cars very little on a daily basis. Most of the time the car spends in the parking lot. How often do we use a drill — this is also a tool that can be rented. Such a subscription model can provide recurring revenue for companies — we have book readers, streaming music and movies also bring in a lot of revenue, even though we don't produce or buy records.

Technology, digitization, but above all a change in attitude is important. We have stopped fixing things, now even when something breaks, it's increasingly rare. This niche can allow us to create new jobs.

The circular economy relies on locality — local entrepreneurs and consumers.

And it is this locality that can help make us independent of global crises. We must remember that we live in an economically unjust world — at most 10% of the world's population is horrendously wealthy, the global economy works mainly on them. Circular economy could also restore some balance, allowing local societies to develop evenly.

Mazovia Circular Congress to jedna z większych konferencji dotyczących gospodarki cyrkularnej

Mazovia Circular Congress is one of the largest conferences on the circular economy


Wiktor: What is the biggest problem of presenting such a model. What you described is often seen by me with people who believe in conspiracy theories. For such, the way the lending model strikes at their freedom. How do you convince them?

Agnieszka:This is a difficult question, I deal with it to a daily basis and I don't know a good answer. The Circular Economy, on the one hand, is increasingly popular, but you are right. We have had an aversion to not owning things since communism.

Wiktor: For many people, it's a matter of feeling secure?

Agnieszka: Yes it is true. But it's a difficult question — the mentality has to change. Younger generations don't have as much need to own. It is necessary to understand that we need to start using resources more sensibly. It is necessary to change the mentality. It's a question of education and availability of goods, changes in the fiscal sphere. Renting and subscription are not the only business models — it's more a matter of making products more durable, making it worthwhile to use recyclable materials. Gross Domestic Product is not the only indicator of development, which additionally does not show hidden costs such as social, health or environmental costs.

This question still needs to be faced.

Wiktor: Companies that introduce circular models will be able to compete in the coming years with those companies that follow this straight line?

Agnieszka: It's a problem of scalability. There are a lot of useful and interesting technologies emerging that have scalability problems because it's hard for them to compete with corporate colossi. However, there are positive examples. IKEA is increasingly introducing circular models in their business. They buy back furniture from consumers and then remanufacture it and bring it back to the market at special commission outlets In Sweden, there is an IKEA with only used items.

This is a problem with which a change in the law should go. There needs to be a fiscal change that would force the big manufacturers to change their modus operandi. So that secondary raw materials start to be more competitive with primary raw materials, so that it starts to be profitable for us to repair things. There are studies that leftover banana, rice, pineapple leaves, flax and hemp can secure the world's demand for textiles. It would be possible to move away from cotton cultivation, or at least reduce its share. But still these solutions are not used on a mass scale.

I spoke with a representative of Patagonia, which has sustainability on its banner, continues to use cotton in about 90% of its products. They didn't answer me why they don't want to switch to more sustainable production using other raw materials.

Tax incentives would be important. At the level of the European Union and the European Commission, such solutions are being developed to help transform the economy in a circular direction.

prezentacja raportu

presentation of the report issued by INNOWO


Wiktor: How is INNOWO implementing such solutions?

Agnieszka: We try to promote and show GOZ solutions, we conduct economic analysis showing how to effectively transform the economy so that it pays off for us. We show startups that are introducing such solutions. We created the Polish Circular Hotspot - a platform that brings together all kinds of companies that want to work for the circular economy. We cooperate with similar platforms from Scandinavia and the Netherlands, among others, where we exchange knowledge and experience.

We try to influence Polish politicians — to explain what changes are necessary for this circularity to become a reality. On the one hand, we focus on promoting analytical solutions. We recently published a report on the extent to which the Polish economy is circular.

Wiktor: And to what extent is it circular?

Agnieszka: The world economy is circular at 7.2%, while the Polish economy is circular at 10.2%.

Mazovia Circular Congress to jedna z większych konferencji dotyczących gospodarki cyrkularnej

Mazovia Circular Congress is one of the largest conferences on circular economy


Wiktor: Are we at the forefront of the world?

Agnieszka: Yes. Norway is at 2.7% and Sweden is at 3.5% — that was a surprise to us. We are more independent as a country, our trade deficit is smaller. We don't rely on imports like those countries, and we also have a lower level of consumption.

The result compared to other countries is better, but let's still remember that almost 90% is a gap to close.

Wiktor: This gap can be closed 100%?

Agnieszka: It is not possible at this point. It can be increased to 20-30%. There are sectors that are more sensitive to this — construction, bioeconomy and food production. It is worth remembering that waste in one sector, can be a raw material in another. Increasing this circularity process is possible, but not 100% realistic with our current technological state.

Wiktor: You have published a report — the Polish Circular Gap Report.

Agnieszka: We created this report with the Dutch company Circule Economy. These reports are created based on the methodology developed by this institution By the way, the Netherlands is the most circular country in the world, at over 25%.

We presented this report last October during the Circular Week initiative, which we organize every year.

Wiktor: What do we find in it and who is it aimed at?

Agnieszka: It should be accessed by decision-makers. There are opportunities for closing circuits shown there. This report shows the macroeconomic perspective. We also create reports that show specific solutions. One example is the Circular Business Roundtable, where we showed circular solutions from around the world. This is, for example, clothing rental companies such as igarderoba. We often hear that people don't want to rent clothes for hygiene reasons. There is a barrier of sorts, but after all, we sleep in hotels and wipe ourselves with hotel towels that hundreds of people have used before us. With such a model, the quality of these clothes is very important.

The Circularity Gap Report Poland

The Circularity Gap Report Poland


Wiktor: INNOWO also supports cities in introducing circular economies. These are solutions mainly for large cities, or also municipalities of all sizes.

Agnieszka: The city is the best platform for introducing circular solutions. This economy is about cooperation, so cities can help connect neighborhood-based organizations.

They can create foodhubs, for example, where uneaten food can be picked up and donated to entrepreneurs who can process it. Cities need to start with, help with this by connecting the dots on the map. All should work to connect supply chains and activate residents.

Urban Farming is becoming increasingly popular in Norway, with the city paying a land caretaker to help residents grow crops. What is needed here is city support that allows these programs to flourish.

Wiktor: Who is the forerunner of circular in Poland?

Agnieszka: It is difficult to define. Small and medium-sized enterprises are a bit afraid of these ideas. And this sector, which is the backbone of the economy, is very important for this change. it is one of the most important groups that we will want to convince to change their economic model. More and more institutions are beginning to see this need for transformation towards GOZ — the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development, which is introducing programs to support and educate entrepreneurs. NGOs are also active, but the government is different.

Unfortunately, one must be wary of the greenwashing of corporations, which introduce a small circular project that they boast about, and leave the rest in a linear system. Reuters did an action, they donated used pairs of shoes to the DOW, which created a huge, marketing-bearing program to recycle them. These shoes had devices that tracked their path. None of them ended up being recycled, they were found in Asia in bazaars

Wiktor: You will be a speaker at the Polish Climate Congress — what message do you want to go there with?

Agnieszka: About the fact that the circular economy has a very close connection to climate change and biodiversity loss and can be an effective solution to minimize these threats We can't treat these areas separately. Climate change is not just about energy and carbon emissions. For me, GOZ is an umbrella topic. I worked for WWF for many years, and I have the impression that the public is tired of the topic of climate change - especially in Poland, where extreme weather events are relatively rare. There are still a lot of skeptics who don't take these threats seriously.

With dwindling resources, there is no way to discuss them. With climate change, we feel that we don't know what to change, that our individual impact is negligible. The circular economy, on the other hand, promotes business solutions that are also designed to help make money. We look for solutions that are profitable and useful. This argumentation may be more convincing to businesses and entrepreneurs.

Wiktor: Thank you for the interview.

interviewed by Wiktor Bochenek

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