CIRCULAR ECONOMY

The role of Industry 4.0 as a technological driver for the Circular Economy

Technology focus

Exploring complementarities between Circular Economy and Industry 4.0


Circular economy (in some regions referred to as 3R: reuse, reduce, recycle) has the ambition to realise maximum resource productivity. That should be achieved by minimising material usage per unit of functionality and by managing materials to reduce waste and avoid pollution. The shift towards a circular economy creates a strong need however for new technologies and business concepts.

From a consumer and business perspective, the change in ownership and material management concepts triggers a need for new business models such as Products as a Service (PaaS), sharing platforms, peer-to-peer interactions, industrial symbiosis, etc. Many of these are based on the availability of efficient ICT tools including apps, websites, online user platforms, and databases.

From an industrial viewpoint, the circular economy generates needs for advanced sorting and recycling solutions, efficient materials processing solutions and production methods that support design for circularity. These needs are covered by technologies like robotics, connected sensors, human-machine interfaces, artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc.

All these technologies are typically labeled as ‘Industry 4.0’, an aggregate of smart manufacturing technologies enabled by cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things and cloud computing. By focusing on the role of Industry 4.0 as a technological driver for the circular economy, this thematic cluster aims to explore and clarify the complementarities between both frameworks and how development can be diversified over different regions in the world.


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Session approach

Both circular economy and Industry 4.0 are based on:

  • a change in the approach of customers,
  • new product and process offerings, and
  • an integration of value chains.
  • From this perspective it becomes clear that industry 4.0 and circular economy (at least) share a similar vocabulary. In this thematic session we want to explore to which extent they also share a common future vision, a common goal for the industry towards 2030. A goal that is in line with the SDGs 9 and 12.

    Circular economy is considered a driver for envisioning the industrial framework in 2030, while Industry 4.0 provides the driver for technological innovation. We will discuss the interaction between both and consider how the development can be diversified over different regions in the world.

    The discussions and debates at the G-STIC conference will tackle 3 topics:

  • Envisioning a circular economy based industry in 2030,
  • Value chain innovation through combining CE and Industry 4.0,
  • The future of the waste industry and the 4th industrial revolution
  • Potential impact on SDGs

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    SDG 12 calls to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Progress is indicated by e.g. material footprint and domestic materials consumption, food loss, recycling rates, and hazardous waste production, sustainable public procurement actions. All these indicators are directly affected by the implementation of circular economy or 3R policies. Both go beyond the efficient collection and recycling of waste. They aim at the introduction of a sustainable lifestyle, in which producers and consumers move away from the linear make-use-dispose model and introduce sharing, leasing, repair and remanufacturing concepts.

    SDG9 aims to build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation. Sub-target 9.4 aims to upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes, with all countries taking action in accordance with their respective capabilities. This calls for a smart introduction of technologies and a reasoned choice of industrial development. Circular economy is considered a driver for envisioning the industrial framework in 2030. Industry 4.0 provides the driver for the technological choices to be made.

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