Scoping study to identify potential circular economy actions, priority sectors, material flows & value chains

Funded by: EU Commission (DG ENV)

Duration:

November 2013 to June 2014

Research project leader(s) at PSI


Robin Vanner

Background, summary and aims

Background, scope and aims

Circular economy refers to an industrial economy that is restorative by intention; it maximises the time products and materials circulate in the economy, which are designed to be used again with minimal energy and highest quality retention, and low (or zero) impact disposal.

The overall project objective is to provide information that will guide the initiation of new policy-instrument development or reform at EU level; thereby making further progress towards a Circular Economy. To deliver this, the following sub-objectives are being proposed:

  • Understand the influence that the socio-economic system as a whole, including the world views and practices of economic actors within particular product value-chain, has on the prospects of further moves towards a circular economy.
  • Improve the prioritisation of which value chains, material flows and sectors/ products to focus policy action on, by exploring the factors that have maintained the gap between theorised and actual levels of economic circularity in particular value chains, material flows and sectors/products. 
  • Make practical and implementable policy recommendations intended to make further progress towards a Circular Economy.

Project design

The overall approach is to explore the factors underling the failure of the existing system to take greater cost-effective moves towards greater economic circularity. This will include:

  • Taking a transition or systems-change perspective in task A2 – building on the understanding that changes by any individual economic actor (eg, towards the Circular Economy) are conditioned or facilitated by the socio-economic system they work within and the world views and practices they have adopted.
  • Using this transition or systems-change perspective in task C to explain the gap between theorised and actual levels of economic circularity in particular value chains, material flows and sectors/products, thereby improving the prioritisation of which value chains, material flows and sectors/ products are suitable for greater economic circularity.
  • Using this transition or systems-change perspective to make practical and applied policy recommendations in task B.

Importance of research

The closed-loop or Circular Economy model has risen to prominence since last year’s World Economic Forum (WEF), where Dame Ellen MacArthur launched the 2012 Towards a Circular Economy report. This report highlighted a $380 billion opportunity for the European Union associated with consumer durables - goods like mobile phones, washing machines, fridges and cars etc. To reach its full potential, a Circular Economy needs to undergo simultaneous changes to numerous parts of the value chain. To illustrate the benefits of taking this perspective, the EU Innova REMake project estimates that individual firms in the value chain can make resource efficiency savings of seven to 10 per cent, while co-operation along the value chain can bring resource efficiency savings of 55 to 70 per cent.

Related publications / project outputs

Scoping study to identify potential circular economy actions, priority sectors, material flows & value chains (report and annexes)