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Moving in circles: Logistics as key enabler for a circular economy

Moving in circles: Logistics as key enabler for a circular economy


Verena Fennemann, Christian Hohaus, Jan-Philip Kopka
Publication Date: 
July, 2018

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The principle of Circular Economy is to keep raw materials within the economic cycle as long as possible while generating the lowest possible amount of waste and emission. To do so, end-of-life products and materials must be kept at the highest possible level of value creation according to their original use. Adapted logistical concepts to coordinate both material and information flows - in addition to innovative business models and new approaches to product design for recycling - are necessary to realise circularity in the economy.

The megatrend of digitalisation, especially through Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things, offers solutions that have not yet been applied extensively. Possible disadvantages of rebound effects due to Circular Economy and increased demand for resources caused by the deployment of digital technologies must also be taken into consideration. Due to its strong integration into the processes of production, there is scope for digitised management of resource and waste logistics to make a substantial contribution to a sustainable economy

The white paper discusses the various dimension of logistics that support the Circular Economy transition by reflecting upon the following trends: atomisation of shipments, information logistics and data sovereignty, new manufacturing technologies, autonomous systems in Industry 4.0 and Social Networked Industry. Uses cases are developed for each of these trends, whose respective impacts on respectively producers, consumers, recycling businesses and the environment are also analysed.

Further scenario analysis for both a gradual and radical transition to Circular Economy shows the differing impact these trends might have in varying intensity on manufacturing, logistics and recycling. The white paper concludes that logistics is crucial in all levels of the transition to a circular economy, as it forms the core of transporting goods, transferring information in self-organising supply chain networks and developing new business models.