Technology plays such a big role in our life that we don’t often think about how important it is and the role it plays. As everything is becoming more digital, the world is changing accordingly, witnessing the evolution of processes that can now instantaneously and virtually happen, bringing together the key actors responsible for driving change, in no time. 

The digital world is basically all around us, but what exactly do we mean by digitalisation? 

And what does it have to do with a circular economy system? 

The use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities is known as digitalisation, which is in other words the process for a business of transitioning to digital. 

Circular economy innovation, at the same time, has grown across Europe in many ways, and novel technologies are being used to create exciting innovations in the field. Digitalisation helps connect data, devices, and decisions for the implementation of a circular economy strategy, a vital step toward meeting climate goals and improving Europe’s resource and energy efficiency, while promoting digital innovation across the world. 

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Which benefits does digitalisation bring in the circular economy? 

There are a few examples that can help us clarify the intertwined thread that brings the two concepts together. 

When it comes to materials, for example, it can aid in the closing of the loop by giving correct and accurate data on specific product availability, location, and condition. In construction, digitalisation boosts circular solutions in different stages of the value chain: from design building to material sourcing, construction processes, site management, deconstruction and demolition, and building lifecycle.

Digitalisation also allows businesses to run more efficiently, reduce waste, extend the product life cycle, and lower transaction costs. 

As many projects across Europe demonstrate, digital platforms can be an effective way of connecting different sectors with one another in order to build value creation networks. By connecting multiple industrial stakeholders across different sectors, a digital platform is essential to facilitate circular innovations by providing a platform where visions and ideas can be shared among everyone, and new potential business models can be unlocked through networking activities. 

Various research projects around Europe are born to demonstrate the significance of digital platforms in the current economic scenario, and some of them are listed here to showcase how fundamental digitalisation is to foster a more sustainable and circular approach. 

Let’s start with one that is particularly familiar to us. DigiPrime, a project in which we are a member of the consortium, is a clear example of the important role that a digital platform can play to bring benefits to the circular economy. Funded by the EU, the project is developing a digital platform for a circular economy that will unlock circular business models based on the data-enhanced recovery and reuse of functions and materials. DigiPrime will be substantiated through several cross-sectoral pilots, which will be detailed in 20 use cases covering various European industrial sectors (automotive, renewable energy, electronics, textile, and construction), as well as additional pilots in new sectors funded through an open call mechanism. The DigiPrime project will demonstrate how digital platforms are a step forward for a circular economy by covering various industrial sectors and will show the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of new circular business models and services enabled by it. 

Within the construction industry, there is also the potential to make a difference, and real progress could be made through digitalisation. A platform that does it is DigiPLACE, a project funded by the European Union, that has created a common ecosystem of innovation, standardisation, and commerce to boost the construction industry’s productivity and end-product quality in terms of buildings and infrastructure. It has also looked into the types of digital transformations that will boost production and efficiency.

An exciting example of a digital platform facilitating circular economy innovation in the textile industry is delivered by the project FiberEUse. FiberEUse’s vision is to integrate various innovation initiatives into a holistic approach to improve composite recycling and reuse profitability in value-added products. FiberEUse will assist the industry in the transition to a circular economy model for composites by developing innovative cloud-based ICT solutions for value-chain integration, market scouting, legislative analysis, and life cycle assessment for various reverse logistic possibilities.

An additional project showing the important role of digital platforms is the Horizon 2020 project BIOWAYS. Their objective is to raise public knowledge of bio-based goods and to showcase the enormous potential of bio-based research achievements. The project has created BioWatch, which is an interactive online platform that allows initiatives in the bioeconomy sector to connect with one another and gain direct access to industry, political stakeholders, the media, and the general public for free. BioWatch is an e-library dedicated to bio-based research and projects.

In the world of start-up, the encounter between digitalisation and sustainable patterns is also very evident. 

If we take into consideration the sector of plastics, we are well aware that plastic waste causes extensive damage, from the harmful effects that they have on marine life to the toxins released when they are burned. The economic cost is also significant: it is enough to think that cleaning plastic waste from European coasts and beaches costs approximately €630 million per year.

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How can a digital platform be beneficial in this scenario? 

The Norwegian start-up Empower is addressing plastics challenges by utilizing digital platforms to improve the entire value chain of plastics. They’re creating a value chain centered on the collection, recycling, and re-use of plastic in order to promote social inclusion. For example, they are the authors of plastics credits, a digital tool designed by the project that allows collectors to earn money from their plastics  by registering the plastics they have collected and selling the credit on the Empower portal. It also allows them to see their impact. They have also built a platform for tracking the collected plastics, and connect international purchasers and collectors with one another. 

Digital platforms are being used to enable a circular economy all over the world. Kudoti, a South African initiative, has developed a digital platform to address global waste challenges. Kudoti seeks to create a completely circular economy by working across the value chain. They collaborate with businesses to optimize waste materials supply chains from source to endpoint, as well as to create new supply chains to ensure a continuous flow of materials from waste to resource.

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