G-Stic 2018: Digital Technologies as a Driver for Circular Economy

By Karl Vrancken

Research manager sustainable materials, VITO

Thematic Chairman Circular Economy - GSTIC

3 Oct 2018 -

Once again, ISWA will be supporting G-Stic Circular Economy conference in Brussels 28-30 November 2018, where ISWA's Recycling and Circular Economy expert Björn Appelqvist will be amongst the Lineup of experts.


Circular economy is the topic of debate in conferences, workshops and projects every week, if not every day. Much debate goes into the enabling conditions, policy and business needs. Less attention is typically paid to the technological challenges that the circular economy poses. These challenges are all covered by digital technologies and so-called Industry 4.0. It is time to open the debate on technological challenges and exchange our knowledge worldwide.


Circular economy represents a fundamental alternative to the currently predominating linear take-make-consume-dispose model. It is on the sustainability agenda around the world. To help achieve SDG 9 (sustainable industrialisation) and SDG 12 (sustainable production and consumption), this new model is needed to ensure that material usage per unit of functionality can be minimized and materials will be managed  in order to reduce waste and avoid pollution. The complete value chain needs to be revisited based on circularity principles, and customers need to be provided with services rather than throw-away products.


The transition to a new consumer model and industry framework  requires a circular economy approach that is enabled by smart technologies:

  • advanced collection, sorting and recycling technologies – apps, sensors, robots,..
  • efficient materials processing technologies – digital twins, process automation, artificial intelligence,..
  • production technologies that support design for circularity – 3D printing, modularity, repairability,…
  • interactive platforms for enhanced connectivity – apps, websites, databases, IoT,…

The technological needs show that Industry 4.0 provides the technological driver for circular innovation. On the other hand the digital technologies may very well drive the manufacturing and other industries towards a non-sustainable path. Therefore it is important to understand that circular economy is a driver for envisioning the sustainable industrial framework in 2030. We cannot have a circular economy without the 4th industrial revolution, nor can we have a socially useful and sustainable 4th industrial revolution without advancing the circular economy. That is why we need to involve technology firms such as Apple and IBM in the development and implementation of circular economy. But also small start-ups that experiment with the introduction of novel data technologies and robotization. Waste management is no longer the sole business of logistics and processing industries. We need to move towards smart management of materials using sensors, robots, digital tools and technologies. The internet of things and the blockchain will affect the resource efficiency of our future society, where virtual product chains will determine the urban metabolism.


It is clear that the necessary digital technologies currently exist. The challenge is to make them available and integrate them into the systemic approach that leads to sustainability. 


A second challenge in this perspective is the exchange of knowledge and expertise. The digital challenge crosses over the traditional North-South divide. Whereas for several domains the transfer of knowledge has been in Southwards direction, the digital agenda generates a new Northbound flow. Circular economy provides the ideal background to exchange practices and expertise on waste, materials, programming, IoT, machine learning, hardware across the world.

It is from this perspective that we need to set up a new dialogue between organisations such as ISWA, the World Circular Economy Forum, The World Resources Forum and the Regional 3R Forum for Asia and the Pacific. We need to investigate ways in which various regions can collaborate and learn from each other. How can we ensure that a circular economy does not create a group of closed local economies, but rather becomes a global system of various economies working together? What is the role of digital technologies in aiding such a transition, and what policy changes are in turn needed to bring such technological solutions to the global market? A high-level dialogue is necessary to explore the various options to build a global vision on circular economy.


G-STIC is an organisation and conference series, that has developed a strong interaction and exchange of ideas with technology suppliers as well as several organisations at the UN and global level. We provide an open exchange platform for these organisations to present the outcomes of their discussion and new insights concerning the technologies for SDGs in general and more specifically for circular economy. Regional differences exist between continents. G-STIC recognizes the importance of building an exchange of experience to learn from each other.


Let’s open up for debate on how technology can generate sustainability, how the digital world will become a circular world.


You are welcome to share your ideas with us at GSTIC2018 in Brussels. More information can be found at:


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