Ecoembes inaugurates Europe’s first circular economy innovation centre

€10 million has been invested in this project, which will convert La Rioja into a real-scale experimental laboratory. The project will create 40 jobs onsite and over 200 more in a network of incubators. Highlights of the main research lines include studies into eco-design to create the packaging of the future, the development of solutions to facilitate citizen involvement in recycling processes, and smart waste management.

FuturENVIRO was invited to the inauguration ceremony, which took place on May 17th in the presence of José Ignacio Ceniceros, President of the Regional Government of La Rioja; Cuca Gamarra, Mayoress of Logroño; María García, Secretary of State for the Environment at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and Environment; Alberto Bretón, delegate of the Government in La Rioja; and Daniel Calleja, Director General for the Environment of the European Commission.

Óscar Martín, consejero delegalo de Ecoembes

TheCircularLab works in 4 differentiated research areas. The first focuses on the development of the packaging of the future. Eco-design plays a vital role in this area because it allows for more sustainable packaging with a smaller environmental footprint. A study is currently being carried out on the behaviour of packaging throughout its lifecycle in order to propose recommendations for improvements that would result in the use of fewer resources. Work in this area also includes the search for new sustainable materials, as well as the use of recycled materials in production processes. In addition to this and with a view to identifying and implementing innovation opportunities in this area, the first Packaging of the Future Observatory has been created.

The citizen is a vital actor in recycling because it is the citizen who initiates the process by depositing waste in the appropriate container. For this reason, TheCircularLab seeks to develop tools to facilitate separation in the home and correct recycling. Digital tools are currently being developed to help clarify the doubts of citizens. An example of this is an application that identifies packaging through images and voice (a kind of “recycling Siri”). Through the use of Big Data and data analysis, environmental education campaigns will be designed for the purpose of creating a true citizen science that will serve to further increase society’s commitment to the environment.

The third line of research focuses on the application of cutting-edge technology to the collection, sorting and recycling processes associated with packaging waste. The ‘SmartWaste’ platform has been set up for this purpose and is the first data management and analysis tool designed to improve the efficiency and quality of municipal waste collection services. Within this area, work is also being carried out on the development of smart containers, new, more eco-friendly refuse collection vehicles, and the implementation of robotic waste treatment systems to enable sorting plants to make the transition to Industry 4.0. A methodology is also being consolidated, in cooperation with the UNESCO Lifecycle Chair at the ESCI-UPF School of International Studies, to provide information on the real impact of packaging throughout its lifecycle (LCA).

Finally, TheCircularLab also seeks to foster open, cooperative innovation through working in networks with new entrepreneurs and start-ups operating in the environment sector. In this respect, an incubation programme has been launched in cooperation with the Regional Government of La Rioja, the La Rioja Economic Development Agency and Emprenderioja. The aim is to accelerate new business ideas related to eco-design, recycling, and citizen involvement in waste management.

Located in La Rioja, TheCircularLab seeks to become an international circular economy benchmark. It will convert the region into a large, real-scale experimentation centre, with the objective of developing new patterns that can be transferred to other parts of Spain or even Europe.