Taking circular economy to the next level

June 15, 2017, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

In recent years a growing number of businesses, governments and environmental advocates have embraced the concept of a "circular economy," which aims to achieve greater sustainability by keeping more resources and materials in use for as long as possible—through strategies such increased product durability, reuse and recycling.

Adopted by such businesses as Google, Unilever, and Renault, as well as by the European Union and China, this framework has become an important element of environmental policy and management worldwide and spawned a growing consulting industry.

But in a new special issue of Yale's Journal of Industrial Ecology, leading researchers make the case that it is time to take the discussion and analysis to the next level.

With the concept gaining traction globally, five experts write in the lead editorial, there is a growing urgency for shared understandings, a common language, and hard examinations of the complexities and opportunities in the .

Such discussions, they write, must tackle three fundamental aspects of the circular economy: 1. the challenge of increasing the scale of circularity efforts beyond individual initiatives; 2. the magnitude of potential environmental benefits and impacts in the context of material flows, resource use, and ; and 3. opportunities for innovative business models, institutional change, and informed policy action.

"As the circular economy gains worldwide attention and as implementation spreads, challenges and tradeoffs are emerging," said Reid Lifset, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Industrial Ecology and co-author of the editorial. "Industrial is well-placed to provide insight and guidance on the environmental and resource implications of this emerging framework."

Highlights of the 25-article issue include:

  • A provocative examination of whether circular economy activities might promote more production, and thus trigger a "circular economy rebound"
  • Assessments of the challenges to circular strategies posed by hazardous materials, including arsenic in treated wood
  • Estimates of the current level of circularity in the economy and of the feasibility of running the economy on recycled materials
  • A description of why it is critical to address social and institutional forces when promoting circularity
  • Product design methods and challenges in a circular economy
  • A proposal for circular metrics for products
  • A rigorous study of how much recycled material actually goes to industry
  • Challenges and potential for recovering tantalum—a conflict resource—from e-waste

"The effort to close loops and to increase resource efficiency is a key element in the pursuit of sustainability," said Indy Burke, dean of the

Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. "This special issue of the Journal of Industrial Ecology brings the technical prowess of industrial ecology tothe understanding ofthe environmental and resource dimensions ofour production and consumption systems."

Explore further: We can't recycle our way to 'zero waste'

More information: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10 … .21.issue-3/issuetoc

Related Stories

We can't recycle our way to 'zero waste'

June 5, 2017

In the wake of the final episode of the ABC's War on Waste, in which a dismayed Craig Reucassel canvasses Australia's rubbish-related sins, the idea of "zero waste" is pretty hot right now.

How, when, and why industrial ecology is good for business

October 16, 2014

Industrial ecology, a rapidly growing field focused on sustainable production and consumption, has contributed numerous important tools to modern environmental management—life cycle assessment; "industrial symbiosis," or ...

The value of marine waste

October 3, 2016

The Biomat research group of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) is studying marine waste on the Basque coast (squid, fish and algae waste) to obtain new materials. This line of research is offering a fresh take ...

Recommended for you

Arctic wintertime sea ice extent is among lowest on record

March 23, 2018

Sea ice in the Arctic grew to its annual maximum extent last week, and joined 2015, 2016 and 2017 as the four lowest maximum extents on record, according to scientists at the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center ...

Germany was covered by glaciers 450,000 years ago

March 23, 2018

The timing of the Middle Pleistocene glacial-interglacial cycles and the feedback mechanisms between climatic shifts and earth-surface processes are still poorly understood. This is largely due to the fact that chronological ...

Wood pellets: Renewable, but not carbon neutral

March 22, 2018

A return to firewood is bad for forests and the climate. So reports William Schlesinger, President Emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, in an Insights article published today in the journal Science.

The tradeoffs inherent in earthquake early warning systems

March 22, 2018

A team of researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and the California Institute of Technology has found that modern earthquake early warning (EEW) systems require those interpreting their messages to take into consideration ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jun 16, 2017
My recent book and paper show the way our circular economy is arranged. Try SSRN 2865571 "Einstein's Criterion Applied to Logical Macroeconomics modeling" which is open in the internet, and see how it works. The book may be obtained by writing to me at chesterdh@hotmail.com its an e-copy for free!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.