What does the concept of the Circular Economy mean?

Tessa Dunlop

The Circular Economy is attracting increasing attention from researchers, funding agencies, policy makers and industry. The European Union invested EUR 184 million in 2016 alone on green projects, almost half of which were on the Circular Economy. What is so special about the Circular Economy?

The Circular Economy first appeared in waste management policy, referring to the increased recycling of products. The reduction of waste is beneficial to the environment in terms of pollution, emissions reduction and of decreased resource use. An uptick in recycling necessitates the development of new business models, the emergence of different industries that can process waste and recycle products, as well as new markets for these products – this is where the economy part comes in. The Circular Economy has become a vision for resource efficiency, environmental concerns and economic growth. In one of the articles of this issue we ask, can the Circular Economy boost job creation?

The Circular Economy vision has grown beyond the issue of waste management. Given the potential benefits of a circular model for the economy and the environment, what could be achieved by expanding the Circular Economy to include agriculture, energy and other related industries?

There are also important caveats to take into consideration when looking at the policies and framing of circular economy goals. Firstly, it is important to consider how circular the economy actually is, and how circularity can be measured.  Some believe that the percentage of materials that are either reused or recycled is as low as 6% at the global level (Haas et al. 2015). This is because a great proportion of the products we use cannot be recycled, including energy resources and construction materials. For food and biomass to be effectively recycled by humans, our economy would need to depend on slow-moving ecological systems to produce materials we need – including wood, food and the regulation and replenishment of water, soil and gas resources. Furthermore, what are the risks and uncertainties linked to an increase in recycling? Research has shown that the treatment process to recycle many materials often involves the application of substances that are dangerous to human health and the environment.

Taking these issues into account, are circular economy objectives feasible, viable and desirable? We will let you make your own mind up when reviewing our selection of text and multimedia materials in this first edition of the Nexus Times. These include a video and an infographic on the circular economy as well as three articles that aim to shed light on some of the challenges that Circular Economy initiatives face globally.

We hope that you enjoy this inaugural edition, and that it is relevant to your work. Going forward, we will be tackling cutting-edge topics regarding the water-food-energy-land-use nexus including the limitations to the bioeconomy and the paradox of energy efficiency.

Please get in touch if you would like to contribute to The Nexus Times or provide comment on our articles.