Circular Economy Law

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Welcome to the Future Law Institute Circular Economy Law (CEL) Community of Practice Knowledge Space[edit | edit source]

In this Community of Practice we work together to enable the just and accelerated diffusion of Circular Economy law and policy worldwide. We are creating a database of CE policies and resources and invite you to help build this knowledge base by adding the laws, policies and resources from your jurisdiction.

To start, you might want to:

Key Concepts, Definitions & Principles[edit | edit source]

The Circular Economy concept has gained momentum both among scholars and practitioners. However critics claim that it could mean many different things to different people. This paper aims to create transparency regarding the current understandings of the circular economy concept. ‘Conceptualizing the Circular Economy: An Analysis of 114 Definitions’ (2017) Julian Kirchherr, Denise Reike, Marko Hekkert.


Just Circular Principles: Perhaps one of the most salient criticisms of the Circular Economy concept is that its main priority seems to be economic prosperity, followed by environmental quality, with little or no engagement with issues of social equity and future generations. Alexandre Lemille is a pioneer of Circular Economy 2.0 or more recently the Circular Humansphere, which promotes an approach to circularity that is more just and humane, recognising humans as our most important resource. Alex’s principles have also been included as three ‘Just Circular Principles’ in alignment with Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics.

Safe Circular Principles: To help designers become better equipped to make positive materials choices, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, together with design professionals have collaborated to develop four new advanced methods on safe and circular materials. The methods have been created for designers, entrepreneurs, and innovators to make positive material choices and rethink the design process to integrate safe principles from the very start. To learn More see Safe & Circular Ellen MacArthur Foundation.


Social Aspects of Circular Economy  CE incorporates different meanings, from reduce, reuse, and recycle activities, to environmental degradation or resource scarcity, and is supported by specific indicators to attain sustainable development. However, so far, there has been no agreement to measure how effective an industry/ product is in making the transition from linear to circular approaches, particularly those that affect society. This research work aims to perform a systematic literature review (n =  60) to analyze and discuss how social aspects have been considered and integrated in CE research so far. Moreover, this review provides an overview of the literature on social impact within the CE, which results in three main outputs: a knowledge map of the CE, an analysis of social aspects within CE, and the theories/ frameworks used to evaluate social impact of CE. Finally, this study brings to light how CE implementation can affect society and highlights the importance of social dimension in the domains of CE and a policy-making community, which could help move CE towards a sustainable development. See 2020 paper Addressing the Social Aspects of a Circular Economy: A Systematic Literature Review’ .


Measuring Circularity: The transition from a linear to a circular economy is a research trend topic, as well as the possibility to measure the degree of circularity of products and systems. In a linear economy, raw materials are taken from nature and transformed into final products, which are subsequently used and become waste. On the contrary, a circular economy is an economic model that is restorative by intent and design. To measure the degree of circularity is fundamental for understanding processes and improving them. Moreover, this kind of measure could be useful for driving policies on the topic and achieving a higher level of sustainability. Until now, only few studies have been focusing on how to effectively measure the circularity level of a product, a supply chain, or a service. Moreover, in the circular economy paradigm, there are two types of cycles: the technical and biological ones. Biological cycles are mainly connected to the agricultural sector, and for this kind of cycle, the lack of measurement is even bigger. However, some agricultural productions, such as intensive meat production processes, have basically a linear structure. Intensive broiler production, for instance, uses a quite high rate of inputs, which is not entirely converted into edible products but instead results in a percentage of wasteful outputs. The aim of this work is to propose a modification of one of the few available tools for measuring the circularity, the Material Circularity Indicator (MCI), for adapting it to biological cycles. The modified MCI was applied to the poultry sector, integrating the results with the Life Cycle Assessment methodology. (See publication Measuring Circularity, March 2021). Ellen Macarthur Foundation has developed Circulytics indicators in collaboration with 13 Strategic Partners and member companies, and the indicators have been tested by over 30 companies during 2019. The EMF methodology for measuring circularity is set out in this Project Overview.


Circular Economy in the Global South The relevance of the circular economy in the context of developing countries, is something which to date is little understood. Schroder and his co-authors in this volume highlights examples of circular economy practices in developing country contexts in relation to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), informal sector recycling and national policy approaches. It examines a broad range of case studies, including Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, South Africa, and Thailand, and illustrates how the circular economy can be used as a new lens and possible solution to cross-cutting development issues of pollution and waste, employment, health, urbanisation and green industrialisation. In addition to more technical and policy oriented contributions, the book also critically discusses existing narratives and pathways of the circular economy in the global North and South, and how these differ or possibly even conflict with each other. Finally, the book critically examines under what conditions the circular economy will be able to reduce global inequalities and promote human development in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals. Presenting a unique social sciences perspective on the circular economy discourse, this book is relevant to students and scholars studying sustainability in economics, business studies, environmental politics and development studies. (See publication Circular Economy in the Global South).


Promoting a Just Transition to an Inclusive Circular Economy Considerations of justice and social equity are as important for the circular economy transition as they are in the contexts of low-carbon transitions and digitalization of the economy. This paper sets out the just transition approach, and its relevance in climate change and energy transition debates. (See Chatham House publication April 2020)

Circular Economy Policies Around the World[edit | edit source]

China[edit | edit source]

China's Circular Economy Promotion Law 2008 came into force on 1st January 2009.  The Law is formulated for the purpose of facilitating circular economy, raising resources utilization rate, protecting and improving environment and realizing sustained development. English version here.

Developing the circular economy in China: Challenges and opportunities for achieving 'leapfrog development' Yong Geng and Brent Doberstein, International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology 2008 China is pioneering a new sustainable development model which has the ability to overcome current environmental and resource management problems, while achieving improvements in resource productivity and eco-efficiency. This model, formally accepted in 2002 and termed the ‘circular economy’, is understood to mean the realisation of a closed loop of material flows in the Chinese economic system. Successful implementation of this model is seen as one way in which China can ‘leapfrog’ past environmental damage that is typically seen as economies industrialise. This paper introduces the development of the model in China, and presents the current situation of circular economy practice in China. The paper describes current measures being implemented in China for the long-term promotion of a circular economy, including the formulation of objectives, legislation, policies and measures, so that the country can ‘leapfrog’ its way from environmentally-damaging development to a more sustainable path. The paper then identifies a series of barriers and challenges to the implementation of the concept in China. Finally, conclusions on the future of the circular economy concept are drawn. Data were derived primarily from an analysis of secondary sources (i.e. previously published papers). Additional primary data derived from the main author’s personal involvement in several circular economy initiatives were also employed. (See publication here).

Towards a national circular economy indicator system in China: an evaluation and critical analysis Yong Geng a, Jia Fu a, Joseph Sarkis, Bing Xue (2011) It is widely acknowledged that China’s economic miracle has been achieved at the expense of its natural capital and environment. In order to deal with this problem, the circular economy (CE) has been chosen as a national policy for sustainable development. National laws and regulations have been enacted to facilitate the implementation of CE and national CE demonstration projects have been initiated such that national benchmarking activities could be completed. China is the first country to release nationally focused CE indicators so that objective and credible information on the status of CE implementation can be recognized. These CE indicators are valuable metrics for policy and decision-makers and can help achieve CE goals and outcomes. This unique indicator system has not been communicated to international communities. This paper aims to more broadly introduce this unique national CE indicator system. China’s CE efforts are first detailed with various provisions of the national indicator system. A critical analysis of such an indicator system is presented. We show that certain benefits can be gained, but substantive revision is also needed due to the lack of a comprehensive set of sustainability indicators which should include social, business indicators, urban/industrial symbiosis, absolute material/energy reduction, and prevention-oriented indicators. Concerns related to barriers on implementation are also presented in this paper. The knowledge gained from Chinese efforts on CE indicators are valuable to both developed and developing nations seeking to implement sustainable development measures within their regulatory policies. (See 2011 paper here)

Circular Economy Policies in China - Translating Principles into Practice: In the Circular Economy Promotion Law issued by China in 2008, circular economy refers to the reduction, reuse, and recycling (3R) activities in the production, circulation, and consumption of products. The first of the 3R refers to the reduction of resource consumption and waste generation while reuse and recycling mainly involve wastes. Circular economy in China has two purposes. Firstly, scarcity of resources should be partly solved by improving energy efficiency and reducing the consumption of resources and energy. Secondly, emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gas should be reduced by mitigating pollution caused by rapid industrial development. Learn more about Circular Economy policy implementation in this 2016 chapter by We Li and Wenting Lin School of Environment, Beijing Normal University

Lessons from China: The country consumes the most resources in the world and produces the most waste — but it also has the most advanced solutions, say John A. Mathews and Hao Tan. (See (2016) paper here). Since the Circular Economy Promotion Law of People’s Republic of China came into force in 2009, the concept of circular economy (CE) has gained a rising attention from governments and researchers. Policy makers, companies and researchers have started to establish different sets of principles and strategies for adoption. This 2021 paper introduces the CE within China’s economy background and reviews the drivers to adopt and facilitate its CE. It integrates several current CE practices in China and conducts an analysis on the recycling rate from the government official reports that show China has made some progress in recycling industrial tangible waste and major renewable resources such as iron and steel with remaining challenges and barriers. Further analysis suggests that China requires a more systematic approach to promote CE by individuals, organizations and the nation. (See Feng & Lam (2021) An Overview of Circular Economy in China: How the Current Challenges Shape the Plans for the Future).

European Union[edit | edit source]

The European Green Deal  presents a roadmap for making the EU’s economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas and making the transition just and inclusive for all. The European Green Deal aims  to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy and stop climate change, revert biodiversity loss and cut pollution. It outlines investments needed and financing tools available, and explains how to ensure a just and inclusive transition. The European Green Deal covers all sectors of the economy, notably transport, energy, agriculture, buildings, and industries such as steel, cement, ICT, textiles and chemicals.

The European Green Deal provides an action plan, to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy and to restore biodiversity and cut pollution. It embraces various policy areas (compare timeline to the right).

The new Circular Economy Action Plan ‘For a cleaner and more competitive Europe’ (‘the Action Plan’) emphasises that the EU cannot deliver alone the ambition of the European Green Deal for a climate-neutral, resource-efficient and circular economy. The Action Plan also confirms that the EU will continue to lead the way to a circular economy at the global level and use its influence, expertise and financial resources to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals, in the EU and beyond. This staff working document provides a comprehensive account of the state of play as regards on-going and forthcoming actions related to the international dimension of circular economy, which are placed in the context of key trends in resource use and the challenges and opportunities for various actors across the globe. (See 2020 publication 'Leading the way to a global circular economy, state of play and outlook')

The EU’s circular economy action plan provides a clear vision for a clean and competitive economy. It proposes a plan to ensure that resources are kept in the economy for as long as possible, respecting our planet for a better quality of life for all. In a CIRCULAR ECONOMY, the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible, while waste generation is minimised. Everyone can contribute to this shared agenda: public authorities, businesses, nongovernmental organisations, academia, civil society and citizens. (See 2020 publication 'Investing in the Circular Economy: Blueprint for Green Recovery')

Japan[edit | edit source]

Since the early 2000s, Japan has been advancing the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) effort ahead of the rest of the world and has been making achievements in a steady manner, e.g., reducing the amount of final disposal and improving the recycling rates. Meanwhile, as great changes are seen in economic and social situations at home and abroad, global society, against the backdrop of population and economic growth, faces the need to transform from a linear economy based on a mass production, mass consumption and mass disposal pattern to a circular economy. In addition to the need to transform to a circular economy Japan is considering development of digital technologies and growing demand for environmental consideration from markets and society as new drivers. In line with this, all industries in Japan should regard this transformation as a new business opportunity that can lead their businesses to a “virtuous cycle of the environment and growth.” which should be considered as a marked shift from the existing 3Rs initiative as a measure for addressing waste and the environment, to new business models with higher circularity as management and business strategies.

Aiming to encourage Japanese companies to exercise their strengths in mid to long-term industrial competitiveness cultivated by advancing their efforts in the 3Rs program,  the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) compiled the  Circular Economy Vision 2020 with three different viewpoints in mind:  [i] shift to new business models with higher circularity, [ii] acquirement of appropriate evaluation from the market and society and [iii] early establishment of a resilient resource circulation system to present Japan’s basic policy directions for a circular economy. (See Japan Circular Economy Vision 2020 in Japanese)

EU-Japan Cooperation for the Circular Economy: Following the EU-Japan ministerial meeting in 1986, the European Commission & the Japanese METI agreed on the importance of deepening the industrial cooperation in order to achieve a closer relationship of the EU-Japan economic area. Based on this agreement, the EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation was established in 1987 as a core organization to implement industrial cooperation between the EU and Japan as an affiliate of the Institute for International Studies and Training (renamed later Center for International Economic Collaboration). The European Commission & METI of Japan strongly expect the Centre to contribute to the further development for the EU-Japan economic relationship from the entering into force of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) & Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) in February 2019. At the opening a new era of the EU-Japan relationship, the Centre has started its operations as a new independent General Incorporated Foundation in Japan. It aims at promoting all forms of industrial, trade and investment cooperation between the EU and Japan and at improving EU and Japanese companies’ competitiveness and cooperation by facilitating exchanges of experience and know-how between EU and Japanese businesses. In 2020 a report was commissioned by the EU Japan Center and written by Helene Bangert on the basis of over 40 interviews with stakeholders from the Japanese and EU private and public sectors, alongside desk-based research. The report presents a snapshot of Japan’s circularity. It gives an overview of Japan’s current awareness of circularity and its circular economy policy framework, which centres around the concept of a Sound Material-Cycle Society, its Circular Economy Vision 2020, alongside a table of key circularity indicators comparing the EU and Japan. (See 2020 report 'Japan's Circularity').

Latin America & Caribbean[edit | edit source]

Opportunities for Building ResilienceThe circular economy model has gained high-level political attention and support in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) in recent years. This paper provides analysis of the current state of circular economy policies in LAC and identifies priority issues for governments, businesses, civil society and the research community. (Research paper 2020 Patrick Schröder, Manuel Albaladejo, Pía Alonso Ribas, Melissa MacEwen and Johanna Tilkanen).

United Kingdom[edit | edit source]

The UK is committed to moving towards a more circular economy which will see us keeping resources in use as long as possible, extracting maximum value from them, minimizing waste and promoting resource efficiency. The Circular Economy Package (CEP) introduces a revised legislative framework, identifying steps for the reduction of waste and establishing an ambitious and credible long-term path for waste management and recycling.

Many of the themes and provisions covered within the CEP relate to areas of resources and waste policy where the UK nations are already actively involved through existing measures or work underway to take forward commitments made in their respective domestic waste strategies; The Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS) for England forms part of the UK government’s commitment in the 25 Year Environment Plan for England to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it. The Welsh Government’s strategy, Beyond Recycling, sets out its aim of making a circular, low carbon economy in Wales a reality with a set of key actions to deliver the objective of zero waste by 2050. The Scottish Government’s circular economy strategy, Making Things Last, published in 2016, sets out a clear vision and priorities for action to move towards a more circular economy; and Scotland set a series of ambitious targets to drive circularity. In Northern Ireland, the Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA) is currently developing the “Environment Strategy for Northern Ireland” which will consider the main long-term environmental priorities for Northern Ireland.

This statement sets out the key changes made by the CEP and the approach of the UK to transposition of the 2020 CEP measures. The UK, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland governments have decided to take the approach of issuing this public statement and not to run a formal consultation. The bulk of the 2020 CEP measures are relatively small technical changes and/or the implementing legislation simply adopts the same wording as that of the Directive. We have already consulted on some of the key changes in the CEP, as did the European Commission in 2013 and 2015 during negotiations. Where stakeholder input has been required to develop new guidance, informal engagement has taken place with impacted stakeholders. The Regulatory Triage Assessment is published alongside this statement and shows a net present social cost of £13.4 million. The net direct cost to business is estimated to be £2.6 million per year.

The UK government has stated that leaving the EU has not changed our world leading ambitions on the environment, and we have no intention of weakening our current environmental protections after the end of the Transition Period. We have a long history of environmental protection supported by a strong legal framework which pre-dates membership of the EU, and we will safeguard and improve on this record. Moreover, we recognise the benefits of shifting to a more resource efficient and circular economy as a means of not only reducing impacts on our natural environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, from disposal and embodied emissions related to our consumption, but also in terms of competitiveness, resilience and growth. All four nations have committed to continuing to enhance environmental protections, recognising the need to accelerate action to address the climate emergency.

Annex I provides details of 2020 measures and our approach to transposing them. Annex II contains the Regulatory Triage Assessment and Annex III outlines proposed guidance updates regarding the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive.

To Learn More visit UK Government Website on Circular Economy

Additional Resources[edit | edit source]

Accelerating Circularity in the Textile Industry In collaboration with a wide variety of actors in the textile-to-textile circular system, Accelerating Circularity is developing a Textile Use Case Hierarchy for spent textiles that is accountable to social, environmental, and economic interests. (See more here)