By / June 5, 2014

Circular economy

According to the new EEA Signals 2014 “we often extract limited resources faster than the planet can produce them, turn…

© Jérôme Rommé/Fotolia
Circular economy
© Jérôme Rommé/Fotolia

According to the new EEA Signals 2014 “we often extract limited resources faster than the planet can produce them, turn them into products using environmentally harmful processes and then discard these products after a limited period of use”. This “take-make-dispose” approach is thus high resources consuming and results in the production of huge amounts of waste. In order to better address resource scarcity and waste, the concept of the circular economy appears as an alternative to the current “linear” mode of economics. The aim of the circular economy is to create a production and consumption system that “generates as little loss as possible” by, for example, transforming the waste in raw materials, designing products around materials which could be re-used, recycling to upgrade materials, and remanufacturing.

In this context, a new Circular economy communication is expected to be launched by the European Commission this year as a part of the 2014 Resource Efficiency Initiatives. In January the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the European strategy on plastic waste in the environment which is a step in supporting the model of circular economy. The theme of the 2014 edition of Green Week , the annual conference on European environment policy, to be held from 3 to 5 June in Brussels, is Circular Economy, Resource Efficiency and Waste.


The circular model , The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 5 p.

Case studies documented on the website of The Ellen MacArthur Foundation


Unleashing the power of the circular economy , IMSA Amsterdam for Circle Economy, April 2013, 48 p.
According to this report “an industrial system that is regenerative by design” is the cornerstone of the circular economy which aims to address resource scarcity and environmental impacts.

The Upcycle: Beyond sustainability – designing for abundance, (book), William McDonough, Michael Braungart, North Point Press, April 2013, 256 p.; read an excerpt and an interview with William McDonough
This book is the follow-up to “Cradle to Cradle” (2002), written by the same authors as a first step in the solution to the ecological crisis. Their new book summarizes the lessons gained from ten years of putting the cradle-to-cradle concept into practice and points out the new objectives: don’t just reuse resources with greater effectiveness, but improve them as using them. For the authors, the questions of resource scarcity and sustainability are questions of design.

A global redesign? Shaping the circular economy , Felix Preston, Chatam House, March 2012, 20 p.
This paper argues that the circular economy as a model for industrial organization can help to decouple resource use from economic growth. In that way the current production systems based on resource extraction and generating huge amounts of waste could be replaced by systems that reuse resources and conserve energy.

Treat emissions as resources: Point of view , Michael Braungart, Douglas Mulhall, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, February 2012
The authors of this point of view recommend the reuse of the greenhouse emissions as a resource for industrial and agro-industrial processes.

Reinventing the wheel: A circular economy for resource securiy , Hannah Hislop, Julie Hill, Green Alliance, October 2011, 29 p.
This report examines the way that metals, phosphorus and water are used in the current linear economy. In order to avoid further extraction of natural resources and impacts of generating waste, it promotes the concept of the circular economy and the role of economic instruments.

Reports published by Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Towards the circular economy: Accelerating the scale-up across global supply chains , Prepared in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company, World Economic Forum, January 2014, 64 p.
This report overviews the benefits of a circular economy and explains why the time to act is now and what the leakage points as well as the solutions are.

Towards the circular economy: Opportunities for the consumer goods sector , McKinsey & Company for The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2013, 112 p.
The aim of this report is to test how the circular economy applies to the ‘fast-moving’ consumer goods, which “currently account for about 60 per cent of total consumer spending, 35 per cent of material inputs into the economy, and 75 per cent of municipal waste”.

Towards the circular economy: Economic and business rationale for an accelerated transition , McKinsey & Company for The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2012, 50 p.
This first report of The Ellen MacArthur Foundation focuses on the business opportunity created by the circular economy as an alternative to the linear economic model. It examines five products to show that designing and using goods in accordance with circular model could produce significant material savings.

Country studies

Remanufacturing: Towards a resource efficient economy , Policy Connect, March 2014, 12 p.
This briefing paper, written by the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group (UK), defines the remanufacturing of products as an aspect of the circular economy in comparison with reusing and recycling. It highlights its importance for the UK economy through current best practices and formulates recommendations for developing remanufacturing potential of different UK industries.

Opportunities for a circular economy in the Netherlands , TNO, October 2013, 124 p.
This report,commissioned by the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, analyses drivers and obstacles on the way to a circular economy and possible impacts of increased circularity on the Dutch economy. It focuses on two cases: the circular economy for products from the metal and electrical sectors, and the use of waste streams from biomass.

Resource resilient UK , Dustin Benton and Jonny Hazell, Green Alliance, July 2013, 44 p.
This report, prepared by the Circular Economy Task Force, a government supported, business led group, aims to identify the main problems and ways to address the resource insecurity through a more circular economy in the UK.

Progress toward a circular economy in China: The drivers (and inhibitors) of eco-industrial initiative , John A. Mathews and Hao Tan, in: Journal of Industrial Ecology , Volume 15, Number 3, June 2011, 24 p.
This article analyses different eco-industrial initiatives in China where the circular economy is an official national development goal.

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