“The circular economy is not the panacea that many were hoping for”
In a new study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, researchers say the circular economy risks becoming counterproductive, unless we stop seeing it as a panacea for all kinds of environmental problems.
As a circular economy has become a well-known and recognized model among businesses, regions, cities and NGOs around the world – from China and Latin America to the EU and the United States – this what is less discussed is that the model has received a lot of criticism. both practitioners and researchers.
Academics from Lancaster University Management School, Lund University and the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden compile the following critiques in the new study:
The concept of circular economy is so diffuse and sprawling that it is not possible to measure its impact. This includes everything from recycling systems and rental, replacing products with services, developing applications for the sharing economy, and more.
Proponents of a circular economy tend to ignore the large amount of materials and products that people have already accumulated. The concept boils down to a question of choosing between linear and circular products and ignores the physical laws on the physical limitations of materials and the complexity of waste; even if these issues are crucial for a circular economy to become a reality.
Some companies only develop circular activities for part of their operations. This may be due to the difficulty of scaling up pilot projects; often it is only a small part of the operation that is characterized by a circular economy, while the main activities continue as usual.
Contrary to what advocates say, knowledge about how a circular economy will affect resource use and growth is limited. This makes it difficult to measure the environmental impact, especially in the long term and at wider geographic scales. Some argue that a circular economy only delays, rather than eliminates, the negative environmental impact of the linear economy.
Although supporters of a circular economy claim to contribute to a socially sustainable future for all, the concept tends to boil down to a debate about the consumption of resources. There is no connection with how the concept would lead to greater social equality.
Some critics argue that the circular economy depoliticizes industrial and environmental policies while strengthening market and corporate power. It’s a tantalizing concept that promises everyone will benefit from its implementation. It allows discussions about synergies, win-win and possibilities rather than trade-offs, problems and limitations.
“In conclusion, the criticism of the circular economy does not call into question the concept of circularity”, specifies Hervé Corvellec, lead author of the study.
“It’s more about how the supposed benefits are based on inconsistencies, an incomplete picture, hidden assumptions, unclear schedules and consequences. These are the questions we must ask ourselves: how do we know that a circular solution is good for the environment? Who benefits and who does not? Will it phase out the linear economy – extract, produce, consume, throw away?
“Clarity is required regarding precisely what type of circularity it applies and what the conflicting goals are. “
Within the article, the team of researchers proposes a more modest circular economy, which is not presented as a panacea but as a real solution to concrete problems.
Co-author Dr Alison Stowell, Lancaster University Management School, said: “We recognize that the circular economy agenda has had a significant impact, and this study aims to highlight areas in need of improvement. attention to research, policy and management to foster further progress.
“We hope this will help develop a more modest path to circularity that is concrete, transparent and inclusive. “