The EU and ASEAN are working together to shift from a linear economic model that requires the use of vast amounts of natural resources to a circular economy that derives much greater value from resources and materials and prevents the generation of waste.

Circular economy is often thought of as an approach to waste management and recycling. However, this misses its transformative potential and much wider scope that encompasses business development, innovation, product design, value creation and resource management.

In a circular economy, products are designed to be easily repairable, to last much longer, and with the potential to be upcycled for a different use. Consumers gain access to a wide range of goods and services through rental while purchasing and owning fewer products.

Products that cannot be repaired or are no longer needed can be safely repurposed into high-quality materials. Waste products are upcycled rather than downcycled. Biological materials are composted and returned to the soil as nutrients for new plants.

In March 2020, the EU launched its new Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) as part of the region’s industrial strategy. CEAP is a key pillar of the EU’s Green Deal and will play a major role in the region’s recovery efforts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, the EU supported a gap analysis focusing on circular economy and plastics and ASEAN. This was done with the technical expertise of the Enhanced Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument (E-READI) in the context of a policy dialogue on circular economy between the EU and ASEAN.

The study identified gaps in both policy and practice, and recommended five regional initiatives including: the establishment of regional guidelines for ASEAN; harmonized technical standards; ASEAN-wide research and innovation networks; and the phasing out of harmful substances in plastics. It also suggested that the establishment of a regional platform could provide an institutional mechanism for further action.

In close coordination with the ASEAN Secretariat, the EU has also developed a proposal for an ASEAN Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform. The initiative is modelled on the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, which was established in 2017 and played a key role in promoting a better understanding and adoption of circular economy practices in the EU.

The ASEAN platform will serve as an information and knowledge portal showcasing best practices and resources with the support of an engagement group consisting of circular economy practitioners and experts. The platform secretariat will be hosted by the ASEAN Centre for Sustainable Development Studies and Dialogue (ACSDSD) in Bangkok.

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