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Academic/Research paper

The circular economy as EU environmental policy – Changing or maintaining the status quo?

The circular economy as EU environmental policy – Changing or maintaining the status quo?

The circular economy as EU environmental policy – Changing or maintaining the status quo?

Many actors see the EU’s circular economy (CE) as a promising narrative which steps outside dominant end-of-pipe solutions towards an encompassing vision for strategies across the supply chain. However, this study finds that the EU CE Action Plan maintains the status quo narrative instead of suggesting radical changes.

By focusing on stakeholder narratives, this analysis shows that the inertia is primarily due to CE proponents’ self-perception of being in a legitimacy crisis and their strategic arguments that have:

  • concealed social conflict and potential trade-offs
  • strengthened the agency of ‘status quo’ agents
  • excluded alternative voices questioning the proposed CE narrative.

The paper discusses how to develop new environmental narratives outside the status quo.

Barriers and enablers of wood cascading – Lessons for a circular bioeconomy

Barriers and enablers of wood cascading – Lessons for a circular bioeconomy

Barriers and enablers of wood cascading – Lessons for a circular bioeconomy

Longstanding research on wood cascading has identified a variety of factors to enable more efficient, circular use of forest-based products in Europe.

This paper finds that two of the most critical barriers to wood cascading are:

  • Competition between energy and material uses of waste wood in policy, market and infrastructure
  • Inadequate information on and low quality of waste wood, including pollutant content.

It makes the following recommendations for policies and business:

  • Redesign production processes to deal with contamination and increase quality
  • Coordinate energy and waste policies
  • Advance reporting standards about material composition of bioproducts
  • Explore the best forms of involvement, awareness raising, communication and policies.

Three narratives about food waste and their social impact

France's Law Against Food Waste: do new narratives serve social justice?

Three narratives about food waste and their social impact
Author: 
Sina Leipold, Kaja Weldner, Marius Hohl
Publication Date: 
12/2021
Country: 
Germany

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Scope:

France's Law Against Food Waste has become an international model for sustainable food policy. The law is often described as combining economic efficiency with environmental protection and social equity. However, stakeholder narratives cast doubt on whether this French CE law really contributes to social justice in the long run. This discourse analysis shows that:

  • the ban on food waste institutionalised a narrative about food waste that prioritises profit over social equity
  • the traditionally dominant solidarity narrative about food waste has been pushed back by the emerging CE discourse
  • As a consequence of this shift, activities enacted in the name of the CE may counteract social equity goals (for instance by establishing competition with charities).

Full research article

Effective circular strategies for eco-friendly urban agriculture

Effective circular strategies for eco-friendly urban agriculture

Effective circular strategies for eco-friendly urban agriculture

Urban agriculture comes with its own share of environmental impacts. Circular strategies promise to reduce these impacts, but not all strategies are resource efficient and environmentally effective.

This paper finds that the most eco-friendly and circular strategies for urban agriculture, taking a Mediterranean tomato crop as a case study, include:

  • Struvite (phosphate mineral recovered from wastewater treatment) instead of non-renewable phosphate fertiliser to conserve freshwater
  • Recycled steel and materials for urban agricultural infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions, toxicity and freshwater pollution
  • Closed-loop irrigation to minimise ocean and freshwater pollution. However, if new infrastructure is required, it could lead to an increase in carbon emissions.

Healthy diets save more resources than food waste reduction

Healthy diets save more resources than food waste reduction

Healthy diets save more resources than food waste reduction

Policies are focusing on halving food waste to help conserve increasingly strained food resources. However, expanding their scope of action to include dietary changes and complement targets with resource footprints has greater potential to save resources while avoiding trade-offs.

This paper shows that in Germany:

  • Healthy, plant-based diets are more effective at reducing land and biomass use than halving food waste
  • A combination of more plant-based food consumption and food waste reduction in distribution and consumption is most effective at saving resources
  • Focusing exclusively on food waste reduction as a policy target can be detrimental to the overarching goal of saving resources because it deflects attention away from more effective alternatives.

Environmental assessments should focus on the needs of circular cities

Environmental assessments should focus on the needs of circular cities to support the transition to a sustainable circular economy

Environmental assessments should focus on the needs of circular cities

The circular economy (CE) is gaining momentum in cities. To ensure a sustainable CE, it is crucial to measure the environmental performance of CE strategies. However, environmental assessments overlook several strategies that are a key feature of urban CE practice. These include reuse and repair, sustainable built infrastructure and urban land use, green public procurement, smart information and access technology.

To provide insights into the environmental performance and potential of these strategies, industrial ecologists and municipalities should:

  • collaborate with urban systems experts
  • quantify the environmental impacts of entire urban systems
  • combine environmental assessments with social and economic feasibility ones.

Why the Packaging Act contributes little to the Circular Economy

Why the German Packaging Act contributes little to the Circular Economy

Why the German Packaging Act contributes little to the Circular Economy
Author: 
Machteld Simoens, Sina Leipold
Publication Date: 
06/2020
Country: 
Germany

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Many political, business and civil society stakeholders are disappointed with the German Packaging Act. They feel it makes a comparatively small contribution to the circular economy. This study explains why they are disappointed:

  • Policy-making became entangled in disputes between proponents of a private and a public system for waste collection. Stakeholder fears of potential radical changes led to a stalemate
  • Fears allowed only incremental changes in the Packaging Act
  • The incremental changes could not resolve existing conflicts.

Based on its findings, the paper proposes possible courses of action. To create a shift to a circular economy, dialogue is needed using methods which explicitly address fears and overcome the current stalemate.

Quick Scan Circular Business Models - a white paper

Circulaire Maakindustrie
Author: 
Jan Jonker, Niels Faber, Timber Haaker
Publication Date: 
02/2022
Country: 
Netherlands

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Key Area:

This white paper on Quick Scan Circular Business Models - Inspiration for organising value retention in loops from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy offers an approach for developing a circular business model. It is based on a classification for existing and future circular business models developed in 2021. It consists of seven basic models geared primarily to the manufacturing industry, although it can also be used in other sectors.

The paper is divided into three parts:

  1. an introduction explaining the background and central concepts
  2. an overview of the seven circular business models comprising the classification, and
  3. the actual Quick Scan.

The interactive Quick Scan version can be found here.

Implementation of circular economy approaches in the electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) sector

Circularity and the electrical and electronic equipment sector: Barriers, enablers and policy insights

CEPS logo
Author: 
Vasileios Rizos, Julie Bryhn
Publication Date: 
03/2022
Country: 
Belgium

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Key Area:

The article Implementation of circular economy approaches in the electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) sector: Barriers, enablers and policy insights by Vasileios Rizos and Julie Bryhn aims to enrich the research in the field of circular economy business models by focusing on the EEE sector.

The study adopts a multi-case study approach and uses a sample of 31 cases developed through the EU-funded CIRC4Life project and the snowball sampling method. 

The findings show that despite the various policy instruments in place to boost the CE transition in this sector, gaps exist which require policy attention. 

The study suggests actions to facilitate CE practices including knowledge sharing platforms and business partnerships as well as R&D project grants.

Circular economy and the energy transition – potential of a Flemish circularity hub for EV Li-ion batteries

Circular economy and the energy transition – potential of a Flemish circularity hub for EV Li-ion batteries

C
Author: 
CE Center | Circular Economy Policy Research Center
Publication Date: 
05/2019
Country: 
Belgium

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How can a "strategic stock management" approach shed light on the potential of circular strategies for critical raw materials? This reports provides insights at regional macro-economic level for policy-makers.

The future economic and environmental potential of a Flemish Circularity Hub for li-ion batteries from electric vehicles is explored as a case study with high policy relevance.

Circular Cities - Impacts on Decarbonization and beyond

Circular Cities - Impacts on Decarbonization and beyond
Author: 
Enel Spa, ARUP, Enel Foundation
Publication Date: 
11/2021
Country: 
Italy

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To evaluate the impact of adopting circular economy principles in cities – in terms of emissions, quality of life and resilience – Enel and ARUP, with the scientific support of the Enel Foundation, have collaborated on a research project focusing on four cities: Bogotá, Genoa, Glasgow and Milan, all committed to enhancing the energy transition.

The study concerns three key urban sectors:

  1. mobility
  2. built environment
  3. energy systems.

It entailed interviews with stakeholders and analyses of existing decarbonisation policies and circular strategies. A reference model was used to help identify the most significant circular actions that could lead to a reduction in GHG emissions in three sectors.

The results could be used as a guide for decision makers.

How robust is the circular economy in Europe? An ascendency analysis with Eurostat data between 2010 and 2018

shutterstock_1994233649
Author: 
Filippos K. Zisopoulos, Daan Schraven, Martin de Jong
Publication Date: 
12/2021
Country: 
Netherlands

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The authors of the study apply ascendency analysis (a systematic method based on information theory for quantifying the efficiency and resilience of natural ecosystems) at EU level and discuss the implications for urban waste management systems, taking the Netherlands as an example.

They argue that ecological principles can be useful for developing human-made systems. The system is made sufficiently robust to be able to cope with shocks by including a diverse set of stakeholders who provide:

  1. resource-use efficiency through specialised know-how in capturing, processing and delivering a range of resources, and
  2. resilience by generating multiple paths that allow these vital resources to circulate throughout the urban network at different levels and rates.

European food banks and COVID-19: Resilience and innovation in times of crisis

European food banks and COVID-19: Resilience and innovation in times of crisis

European Food Banks Federation
Author: 
Paula Victoria Capodistrias, Julia Szulecka , Matteo Corciolani , Nhat Strøm-Andersen
Publication Date: 
11/2021
Country: 
EU
Norway

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Paula Victoria Capodistrias Contact details

The European Food Banks Federation (FEBA) works on raising awareness about the problems of food waste and poverty, lifting obstacles to food donation for social purposes, and promoting the circular economy.

This research paper examines the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the functioning of European food banks and how resilient European food banks were in coping with the pandemic in 2020.

The researchers apply a multiple case study to assess how the first year of the pandemic affected European food banks’ operations and the amount of redistributed food. They further investigate innovation practices that have been developed to cope with the new situation, hoping to draw lessons for imminent future waves of the pandemic and other social crises.

The circular economy as a de-risking strategy and driver of superior risk-adjusted returns

The circular economy as a de-risking strategy and driver of superior risk-adjusted returns

The circular economy as a de-risking strategy and driver of superior risk-adjusted returns
Author: 
Bocconi University, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Intesa Sanpaolo
Publication Date: 
08/2021
Country: 
United Kingdom

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Bocconi University’s analysis of 200+ European, publicly listed companies across 14 industries shows that the higher the circularity of a company, the lower its risk of defaulting on debt, and the higher the risk-adjusted returns on its stock.

The paper reveals how circular economy strategies can reduce investment risk by decoupling economic growth from resource consumption, diversifying business models, and allowing businesses to better anticipate stricter regulation and changing customer preferences. Embedding circular economy principles also reduces exposure to supply chain disruptions and volatility of resource prices.

Wasted bread: New culture medium for growing starters from bakery waste in the fermented food industry

Bread Waste
Author: 
Michela Verni - Department of Soil, Plant and Food Sciences, University of Bari Aldo Moro, Bari, Italy, Andrea Minisci - Valle Fiorita Catering S.r.l, Ostuni, Italy, Sonia Convertino -Valle Fiorita Catering S.r.l, Ostuni, Italy, Luana Nionelli - Valle Fiorita Catering S.r.l, Ostuni, Italy, Carlo G. Rizzello - Department of Soil, Plant and Food Sciences, University of Bari Aldo Moro, Bari, Italy
Publication Date: 
02/2020
Country: 
Italy

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Through fermentation, bread scraps can produce chemical compounds for the pharmaceutical and food industries, fuels and enzymes. The starters (which kickstart the fermentation process) obtained by this project confirm the huge economic and technological potential of a growing substrate obtained from low-cost matrices.

The protocol includes homogenisation of the waste bread (leavened bakery products), with the addition of enzymes and final sterilisation.

The culture medium can be liquid (broth), solid (agar) or dehydrated. The substrate can be used for cultivating lactic bacteria, yeasts and moulds (for the food industry).

About 10% of the bread waste produced monthly can be used to yield a culture medium for bacterial starters.

Green and digital "twin" transitions: process of structuration and evolution of circular economy and industrial digitalisation

Green and digital "twin" transitions: process of structuration and evolution of circular economy and industrial digitalisation

Author: 
Carlos Montalvo, Kristina Karanikolova, Fernando Diaz Lopez
Publication Date: 
06/2021
Country: 
Netherlands

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Scope:

Over the past decades concepts such as sustainability and industrial development have slowly come to the same operational logic, as demonstrated by a growing interest in exploring and describing the synergy between developments in the circular economy and industrial digitalisation. There is agreement on their complementarity evolution paths, but no outlook is available regarding the co-evolution staging and structuring. This paper based on desk and empirical research presents an approach to outline the likely path of evolution.

So far, the notion of transition to sustainability has been applied in single sector studies, while reality indicates that the systemic change required cuts across thematic technologies and sectors. The approach taken can be useful to enrich current analyses.

European environment policy for the circular economy: Implications for business and industry stakeholders

European environment policy for the circular economy
Author: 
Mark Anthony Camilleri
Publication Date: 
08/2020
Country: 
United Kingdom

Language for original content:

European circular economy policy

Scope:

EU institutions and agencies are increasingly raising awareness about the circular economy agenda. They are encouraging marketplace stakeholders to engage in sustainable production and consumption by reducing, reusing, restoring, refurbishing and recycling resources throughout their value chain.

This research evaluates the latest European environmental policies including the new circular economy plans for a cleaner and more competitive Europe. It then goes on to present a systematic literature review focused on the circular economy in the EU context. The findings suggest that there are a number of opportunities and challenges for the successful planning, organisation, implementation and measurement of circular economy practices.

Analysing European Union circular economy policies: words versus actions

Analysing European Union circular economy policies: words versus actions

ScienceDirect

The academic paper "Analysing European Union circular economy policies: words versus actions" comprehensively reviews and analyses the EU’s circular economy (CE) policies. Results show a dichotomy between words and actions, with a discourse that is rather holistic, while policies focus on “end of pipe solutions”.

To address these limitations, the paper proposes a set of 32 science-based policy recommendations which can help strengthen circular economy policies both within and outside the EU. This research thus brings key insights for practitioners and academics seeking to better understand the EU’s CE policies and how to improve circular economy implementation at both national and international level.

See here for more results, insights and recommendations.

Unveiling a Recycling-Sourced Mineral-Biocellulose Fibre Composite for Use in Combustion-Generated NOx Mitigation Forming Plant Nutrient: Meeting Sustainability Development Goals in the Circular Economy

Unveiling a recycling-sourced composite to help meet Sustainable Development Goals in the circular economy

MDPI
Author: 
Patrick Gane, Katarina Dimić-Mišić, Nemanja Barać, Monireh Imani , Djordje Janaćković, Petar Uskoković, Ernest Barceló
Publication Date: 
06/2020
Country: 
Switzerland

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NOx (nitrogen oxides) are emitted during combustion in air at high temperatures and/or pressure; if they exceed recommended levels, this has a negative impact on the population. The authors found that when moist, limestone (CaCO3) readily sorbs NO2 to form calcium nitrate, which provides the basis for developing a surface flow filter. The substrate was made from “over-recycled” cellulose fibres such as newsprint, magazines and packaging fibres which are too weak for further recycling. The substrate was coated with fine-ground calcium carbonate and micro-nano-fibrillated cellulose, which was used as a binder and essential humectant to prevent a stagnant air layer forming. Pre-oxidation countered the action of denitrification bacteria colonising the cellulose substrate.

A typology of circular economy discourses: Navigating the diverse visions of a contested paradigm

A typology of circular economy discourses: Navigating the diverse visions of a contested paradigm

Typology
Interactive timeline
Author: 
Martin Calisto Friant, Walter J.V. Vermeulen, Roberta Salomone
Publication Date: 
05/2020
Country: 
Netherlands

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Contact: 
Martin Calisto Friant

This research reviews the long history and diversity of circularity thinking to develop a comprehensive timeline, which identifies and conceptually classifies 72 different CE-related concepts from the Global North and South alike (such as industrial ecology, Gandhian and steady-state economics, buen vivir, doughnut economics, degrowth).

In November 2020 the paper was completed with an interactive timeline that helps researchers and practitioners better situate and navigate the concept of circular economy, both in its rich historical origins and in its theoretical diversity. It thus fosters a cross-pollination of concepts and ideas which can help address the complex socio-ecological challenges of the 21st century.

To learn more about this timeline, please click here.

Ecopreneur.eu: Circular fashion and textile producing countries

Ecopreneur cotton

Textiles and clothing play an important role in our everyday life. But the global fashion industry model is unsustainable. It uses large amounts of resources and has negative impacts on the environment and people. The global fashion industry, therefore, has to make a transition towards a circular model. In a ‘circular’ fashion economy, clothes, textiles, and fibres are kept at their highest value during use and re-enter the economy to avoid becoming waste.

This research note produced by Ecopreneur.eu is a first inventory of the potential impacts of future EU circular fashion on non-European textile producing countries. It uses existing literature and input from four circular economy experts to analyse the economic, social and environmental impacts. 

The Circular Economy's Closed Loop and Product Service Systems: A Review and Appraisal

The circular economy's closed loop and product service systems for sustainable development: A review and appraisal

Author: 
Mark Anthony Camilleri
Publication Date: 
10/2018
Country: 
Malta, United Kingdom

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Contact: 
Mark Anthony Camilleri

This review paper of Mark Anthony Camilleri examines relevant regulatory guidelines, policies, and recommendations on sustainable development, where it traces the origins of circular economy (CE). It goes on to shed light on key theoretical underpinnings of CE's closed loop and product service systems.

The findings suggest that the CE's regenerative systems minimise the environmental impact as practitioners reduce their externalities, including waste, emissions, and energy leakages through the use and reuse of resources. Therefore, this contribution offers a critique on CE's inherent limitations and discusses about the implications of having regulatory interventions that are intended to encourage responsible consumption and production behaviours.

Promoting a Just Transition to an Inclusive Circular Economy

Chatham House report: Promoting a Just Transition to an Inclusive Circular Economy

Just Transition

Today, only 8.6% of the resources and materials in the global economy are reused or recycled.
A crucial transition to a circular economy is required to reach the environmental goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to achieve countries’ climate targets as set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

In this context, it is essential to ensure that the transition to a resource-efficient and circular economic model also delivers on social objectives.

This paper introduces the relevance of the circular economy in the international development SDG context. It also explores how a just transition approach can be successfully applied in the circular economy context.

The URBANREC project: new approaches for recovery of urban bulky waste to create high added-value recycled products

URBANREC: recovering urban bulky waste to create high added-value recycled products

Author: 
Anabel Crespo, Head of the AIMPLAS Composites Department
Publication Date: 
04/2020
Country: 
Spain

Language for original content:

Contact: 
Anabel Crespo

Despite continuous advances in municipal waste management, there are still several waste streams that offer limited opportunities for material recovery and thus end up in landfills and incineration plants.

One challenging stream is the “bulky waste”, defined by the URBANREC project as “(mixed) waste from households and similar waste from companies that does not fit (because of its size, shape or weight) in the regular receptacles used for household waste collection".

In this context, the URBANREC project aims to develop and implement a comprehensive eco-innovative bulky waste management system (to enhance prevention and reuse, improve logistics and develop new waste treatment methods to obtain high added-value recycled products) and show its effectiveness in different regions.

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