March 15, 2024

Portugal's Circular Economy Initiatives: A Model For Sustainability

In a world grappling with environmental challenges, Portugal stands out as a beacon of sustainability, exemplifying the principles of the circular economy in action. Recently, CIRT Database Manager Ava Wonn, had the privilege of experiencing Portugal's innovative approaches to sustainability firsthand as part of an international residency program with the University of Georgia MBA program.

During her visit, Wonn had the opportunity to engage with local B corporations, tour eco-friendly businesses, and witness firsthand the nation's commitment to recycling. One standout organization she encountered was Lipor, a Portugal-based waste management company leading the charge in sustainable practices.

Lipor's mission is to treat municipal waste responsibly, serving approximately 1 million inhabitants in the Greater Porto area. With an annual intake of 500,000 tons of waste, Lipor has adopted integrated systems aimed at minimizing landfill disposal. Their commitment to the circular economy is evident in their four key business components: Multi-material Recovery, Organic Recovery, Energy Recovery, and a Landfill Site. With their diverse portfolio and commitment to sustainability, Lipor has won a number of awards and recognitions. Some of the most notable recognizing their commitment to the municipalities they service. On their property, Lipor has reinvented a capped landfill as an adventure park and equipped the grounds with extensive nature trails. They also host a wide range of waste recovery workshops and environmental camps for the youth, demonstrating their dedication to environmental stewardship and community engagement. Lipor views the community as a high influence stakeholder and aims to give back the land better than they received it.

However, Lipor is just one example of Portugal's broader efforts towards sustainability. In 2018, mainland Portugal produced approximately 4.94 million tons of municipal waste, only 28% of which was recycled. This recycling rate pales in comparison to the average European Union diversion rate of 46%. To overcome these statistics, Portugal has implemented nationwide recycling programs to address these issues. Distinctive color-coded bins make recycling plastic bottles, metal, glass, and paper easy and consistent for citizens, contributing to a more efficient waste management system.

Cities like Lisbon, recognized as the European Green Capital in 2020, are leading the charge in promoting sustainability initiatives. One of the city’s most prominent investments, The Bebidas + Circulares Project, will implement a packaging collection system that rewards consumers every time they return a non-reusable drinking bottle, can, or glass. The project aims at installing 11 recovery points in various commercial spaces in Lisbon. This will result in an estimated collection of 2.5 million packages and will help recycle more than 50 tons of plastic. Another circular investment, the Bottle to Bottle project, aims to increase the recycling of plastic bottles through innovative solutions. By using modern equipment and technologies the project will support the fabrication of recycled PET flakes for the production of new plastic bottles. The Bottle to Bottle project will increase the use of secondary raw materials by 32.5% and will help recycle more than 8,000 tons of plastic. 

Portugal's sustainability efforts extend across the nation, with communities actively engaging in environmental initiatives. From recycling programs to innovative projects, Portugal serves as a model for circular economy practices that prioritize environmental responsibility and community well-being.

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