What Is Circular Economy?

Hi guys,
today I would like to introduce you the term "Circular Economy" and discuss the mainly circular economy in terms of Scotland particular Scotland recycling system. This blog post is based on my short essay which I had to do for one of my university modules, so I will include all the references I used at the end of it. 

What is the Circular Economy?

Believe it or not, there is over 110 definition of circular economy (Kircherr, Reike and Hekker, 2017). Ghisellin et al. (2016) or Murray, Skene and Haynes (2017) defined a circular economy as a concept of sustainable development which should be implemented by businesses. However, there are also scholars such as Naude (2011) and Engelman (2013) who argue that a circular economy is just a theoretical dream which is not practical in reality. Based on these findings, Kircher, Reike and Hekker (2017 p, 229) defined circular economy as an "an economic system that replaces the end-of-life concept with reducing,  alternatively reusing, recycling and recovering material in production/distribution consumption process." In simple terms, the circular economy would simply close the loop across the whole supply chain.

Key Principles of Circular Economy

According to Ellen Macarthur Foundation, there are a few key principles on which the circular economy is based. Those principles are:
  • Design out waste and pollution
  • Keep products and materials in use
  • Regenerate natural systems

Ellen Macarthur Foundation argues that waste and pollution is just a consequence of decisions made at the design stage. Thus, if businesses begin to view waste as a design flaw than they will ensure that they don't create it in the first place.

In terms of keep products and material in use, the Ellen Macarthur Foundation suggests that products and material must be kept in the economy either by reusing, repairing or remanufacturing some of the products and components. 

The third principle is regenerate natural systems. This principle focuses on building natural capital, closing the nutritional loop and a farm powered symbiosis.

Ellen Macarthur Foundation circular economy diagram

If you would like to learn more about each principle, how it is achieved, what the current problems are and you can also read some of the success stories of businesses which implemented them - head over to Ellen Macarthur Foundation directly. 

EU and The Circular Economy

In 2008 the EU came up with The EU Waste Framework Directive revision and introduced the "waste hierarchy". This framework mainly focuses on prevention, re-use recycling, recovery and waste disposal. However, in 2018 the EU adopted a new CE action plan which focuses on: 
  • Make sustainable products the norm in the EU;
  • Empower consumers and public buyers;
  • Focus on the sectors that use most resources and where the potential for circularity is high such as electronics and ICT; batteries and vehicles; packaging; plastics; textiles; construction and buildings; food; water and nutrients;
  • Ensure less waste;
  • Make circularity work for people, regions and cities,
  • Lead global efforts on the circular economy.

And according to Reike et al. (2018) this way the EU is pushing EU member states to re-design and re-configure CE policies and pilot programmes.

Circular Economy

Scotland, the circular economy and recycling

In 2016 Scotland has created its first-ever circular economy strategy called “Making Things Last” which aim to strengthen the economy, support the environment and protect Scotland’s resources. This report covers areas such as reuse, repair or energy recovery. Recycling is also one of the areas which this strategy covers. Scotland aims to recycle seventy per cent of all waste and do not send more than five per cent of all waste to landfill by 2025 (GOV, 2016). Scotland deposit return scheme is one of the efforts which should help Scotland to meet the target in terms of recycling. The idea of this scheme is that people pay 20p deposit for a single-use container and once they return this single-use container they will get the money back (Zero Waste Scotland, 2019). This deposit scheme was adopted by Germany in 2003 and it received a very positive response from the public (Olterman, 2018). However, although Scotland puts lots of effort into recycling and circular economy there is still a big issue with contamination which makes the material not suitable for reprocessing (GOV, 2016). SEPA (Scotland Environmental Protection Agency) discovered that on average seventeen per cent of all Scottish recycling is contaminated. Furthermore, this figure does not account for waste which so badly contaminated that it does not even make it to the recycling centre, and it is sent straight to landfill (SEPA 2017). The Scottish “Making Things Last” strategy does acknowledge high contamination as one of the barriers in the recycling process. Thus, Scotland developed a framework which should tackle the high contamination problem, improve the overall recycling system and support the circular economy in Scotland (p.24).


Figure 1.0 Framework for improving the recycling in Scotland

I think this is everything that I will cover in today's post. I hope you found this brief introduction to the circular economy useful, and as you can see from the Scottish examples - the system is still not perfect, and we have loads of work to do! 

Lots of love,
Kat x

References which are not linked in the post already:

Ghisellini, P., Cialani, C., Ulgiati, S. (2016). A review on circular economy: the expected transition to a balanced interplay of environmental and economic systems. Journal of Cleaner Production. 114, pp. 11–32

Kirchherr, J., Reike, D., Hekkert, M. (2017). Conceptualizing the circular economy: an analysis of 114 definitions. Resources, Conversation and Recycling. pp. 221–232.

Murray, A., Skene, K., Haynes, K., (2017). The circular economy: an interdisciplinary exploration of the concept and application in a global context. J. Bus. Ethics 140 (3), pp. 369– 380.


Naudé, M., (2011). Sustainable development in companies: theoretical dream or implementable reality? Corporate Ownership Control J. 8, pp. 352–364.


Oltermann, P. (2018). Has Germany Hit The Jackpot of Recycling The Jury's Still Out? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/30/has-germany-hit-the-jackpot-of-recycling-the-jurys-still-out (Accessed on 30 January 2020). 


Scottish Government (2016). Making Things Last Circular Economy Strategy Scotland. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/making-things-last-circular-economy-strategy-scotland/ (Accessed on 30 January 2020). 


Zero Waste Scotland (2019). Deposit Return Scheme. Available at: https://depositreturnscheme.zerowastescotland.org.uk (Accessed on 30 January 2020). 

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