This piece highlights the importance of evaluating the political landscape as a crucial step in advocating for green policies. It focuses on Circular Economy Switzerland's efforts to analyze Switzerland's current state and propose measures to improve circularity rates. The ongoing revision of the Environmental Protection Act plays a key role in establishing a coherent framework. Expert parties and coalitions, such as "Long live our products!" and the Alliance for Strong Industry Solutions, actively contribute to the adoption process. The article emphasizes the need for a combination of policy instruments, including economic incentives and communication campaigns, to complement legal amendments. It also recognizes the influence of EU regulations on Switzerland's circular economy agenda.
Switzerland faces pressing environmental, economic and social challenges linked to the high consumption of raw material in the country. Although the country has long been considered one of the most advanced countries when it comes to recycling rates and the separate collection of material streams, it is one of the OECD countries with the highest production of municipal waste per capita. As the “Circularity Gap Report” for Switzerland points out, today only a very small percentage - 6.9% - of all materials used in Switzerland comes from secondary sources such as recycling. The report also shows that the country has the potential to substantially reduce its carbon and material footprint by transitioning to a circular economy and implementing measures in five areas. This study is an example of how preliminary evidence-based research can be helpful when it comes to analyzing the country’s status quo, quantifying virgin and secondary material streams and identifying measures to improve the circularity rate, making clear that urgent action is required. However, without the creation of coherent, solid, ambitious policies and precise framework conditions, the country will not achieve its ambitious goals. A smart policy mix thus plays a key role in driving and stimulating the development of a circular economy.
The creation of a coherent framework for circular economy is precisely the aim of the current revision of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA). In the course of the last few years, the topic of circular economy has gained traction and more than 30 parliamentary proposals have been submitted in the field of the circular economy. The currently most extensive and discussed proposal is the parliamentary initiative 20.433 "Strengthening the Swiss circular economy", developed by the the Environment, Spatial Planning and Energy Committees (ESPEC) of the National Council. The aim of this parliamentary initiative is to examine the numerous parliamentary proposals and initiatives and incorporate them into a draft amendment of the Environmental Protection Act. Among other things, the draft includes the possibility of imposing requirements on the circulation of products and their packaging based on their environmental impacts. These requirements cover provisions on recycling, lifespan extension of products, repair, consumer information, etc. The bill also foresees the promotion of innovative initiatives by business, science and society by means of platforms, pilot projects and industry agreements.
The involvement of expert parties,lobbyists, and advocacy groups is essential for a participatory adoption process of the EPA revision. In Switzerland there are a few coalitions that play a considerable role in supporting the law adoption. These organizations actively participate in the discussions and decision-making process and propose amendments based on their core expertise. For example the coalition "Long live our products!" is committed to the longevity of our products with the aim of promoting repair and reuse activities and overcoming the throwaway mentality. In the context of the EPA revision, the coalition is committed to bringing in neglected aspects related to the lifespan extension of products. The coalition demands for example the use of more precise terms (e.g. legal definition for concepts such as reuse, repair, recovery, waste, etc.) and clarifications regarding the prioritization of circular economy strategies.
With a slightly different focus, the Alliance for Strong Industry Solutions is involved with creating framework conditions that enable industry solutions amongst companies. Industry solutions allow industries to take responsibility for the products they put into circulation, for example by enabling new design standards and financing material loop closure.
The EPA revision is certainly currently a hopeful step towards a true circular economy in Switzerland. Nevertheless, it is often a combination of policy instruments that lead countries to implement their political goals. Next to the law amendment, it is therefore suggested that economic incentives, subsidies, resource allocations, voluntary agreements, and communication campaigns are led to complete the picture.
Finally, Switzerland’s regulation is highly dependent on the political agenda and regulatory trends at the EU level. This was also stated in a 2021 report on the developments on the circular economy in the EU and relation to Switzerland. The influence of the EU regulation can already be seen in the above-mentioned numerous proposals submitted in parliament as well as in societies’ actions, such as the Greenpeace petition demanding the right to repair, taking example on the repair index in France or the repair bonus in Austria.