The Circular Economy: implications for the Environmental Movement

19th February 2016

This report concerns the potential environmental benefits offered by the concept of the Circular Economy, its weaknesses and its relevance to LINK members.  It is based on a survey of LINK members and a workshop as well as a review of literature and discussions with other stakeholders.

A circular economy alters material flows within the economy so that resources are retained in productive use for as long as possible, at the highest possible utility and value, through multiple cycles.  Instead of being designed for disposal after use as in a linear economy, products are designed and made to be used again. Aspirations towards a more circular economy have become popular recently and the Scottish Government is seen as a leader in terms of embracing the concept and reviewing opportunities to adopt it.

A circular economy has potential benefits in terms of competitive advantage, employment, waste reduction and the environment.   It tends to be promoted from different perspectives, depending on the sector involved. The business case for companies moving away from over-reliance on finite resources and developing innovative and forward thinking products and services is often promoted along with figures showing opportunities for growth in specific areas.  There is less emphasis on the environmental benefits, although there has been a report showing that it would have a positive impact on CO2 emissions in Scotland.

A more circular economy has a number of potential benefits to the environment, but depending on how it is conceived or which dimension is given priority, these benefits may not be realised.

LINK members see a more circular economy to have the following strengths:

  • Reduced rates of extraction of natural resources and associated environmental impacts;
  • Reduced waste requiring disposal;
  • Reduced energy use and CO2 emissions;
  • It is consistent with following maximum sustainable yields and maintaining soil productivity and soil health;
  • Reduction in litter, including marine litter.

There are a number of areas to which we would urge the Scottish Government to give greater priority:

  • A greater focus on on sectors which offer environmental gains;
  • Greater priority given to important sectors such as the built environment and agriculture/land use;
  • Assessment of Environmental impact in terms of footprints as well as resource efficiency;
  • More attention to addressing cultural obstacles to shifting to reduced consumption;
  • Proper addressing of difficulties in implementation.

This report recommends that:

  1. LINK should welcome in principle the Scottish Government’s commitment to pursue a circular economy as a step in the right direction, and offer constructive suggestions.
  2. LINK should press the Scottish Government to present the circular economy model in a way that shows the need for an absolute reduction in the rate of consumption of finite resources, alongside the focus on economic development.
  3. LINK and its members should challenge the Scottish Government to deliver on specific key targets in its circular economy proposals, and to incorporate resource indicators, footprint measures and some measures of the degree of circularity.
  4. LINK should challenge the Scottish Government on actions and policies which contradict the circular economy approach.
  5. LINK should continue to press for circular economy action on food production and soils, marine resources and the built environment.
  6. LINK should emphasise the value of the circular economy model in demonstrating how the interests of environmental protection and economic development can be consistent with one another.
  7. LINK should challenge the tendency of many of those advocating a circular economy for competitiveness reasons to downplay the significance of the fundamental environmental imperatives.
  8. LINK and its members should take the opportunity to develop deeper understanding of and alliances around the concept and its practical implementation.

Click here to read the full report and here for LINK’s press release.

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