Circular Economy: Tread towards Sustainability

circular economy

The world is going through a high time to transition towards a sustainable environment. Environmental issues such as deforestation, biodiversity loss, water, air, and soil pollution, resource depletion, and unplanned land use etc. are increasingly threatening the earth’s life-support systems. Here, we need a regenerative approach like a circular economy to save our planet & natural resources.

Circular economy (CE)

Circular economy is an emerging economic system which focuses to minimize resource input and waste, pollution, emission and energy leakages by slowing, closing and narrowing materials & energy loops. Circular system employs reuse, recycling, re-manufacturing, refurbishment & sharing to generate a close loop system while linear economy beliefs in ‘take, make & dispose’ production system (Geissdoerfer et al., 2017). It is an iterative and regenerative process by design and strategy focus on resource efficiency & valuation at all stages of product economy. It is a restorative process aims to products, materials and components in a circular flow encouraging use of secondary materials rather than raw resources.

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Sustainability is defined as the balanced integration of economic performance, social inclusiveness, and environmental resilience, to the benefit of current and future generations. It is composed of three pillars: economic, environment & society also known informally as profit, planet & people. World Commission on Environmental and Development (1987) defined, Sustainability is to meet the needs of present generation without compromising the needs of future generation. To achieve sustainability circular economy can be one of the operational approaches to save the planet for future generation.

Why we should move on circular economy to achieve sustainability?

The concept of CE was introduced by environmental economist Pearce and Turner as a prerequisite to environmental sustainability. The natural resources are not infinite and will end one day, but through generating a regenerative way to enter valuable waste materials into the production loops can increase the resource efficiency and also reduce waste generation.

 “A world in which poverty is endemic will always be prone to ecological and other catastrophes”

(World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987)

The Chinese CE promotion Laws define CE “a generic term for the reducing, reusing and recycling activities conducted in the process of production, circulation and consumption”CE emerges on the actions of “3R principles”; reduction principle aims to minimize the input of materials & energy, waste through improving efficiency (eco-efficiency). While reuse principle refers to use the products again and again for the same purposes that provides more environmental benefits by reducing use of resources, energy and labor. Lastly, recycle principle defines reprocessing of waste materials into products, materials and substances that reduce use of virgin materials and environmental impacts.

According to Ellen Macarthur Foundation Report (2012), the 3R principles can be integrated with-

  1. “products are designed for a cycle of disassembly and reuse”
  2. “can return safely to the biosphere or in a cascade of consecutive uses”
  3. “renewability” to use renewable energy and enhance the adaptability (resilience)

The emergence of eco-design and cleaner production, consumers’ responsibility, green public procurement, recovery of resources and environmental impact prevention are some of the strategies of circular economy at micro level (Ghisellini et al., 2016).

“Issues regarding disassembly, disposability without negative environmental impacts, ease of distribution and return, durability, reliability and customer success” should also be included as relevant to CE”

-(Prendeville et al., 2014; Sherwin and Evans, 2000; Winkler, 2011)

Source:  CYCLE Competence Centre Ecodesign Sprint – Cycle Competence Centre Belgium


Eco-design aims to produce a product or service having minimum environmental impact but maximize business impact by generating a design of circular system along its life cycle. It refers to an innovative product or service design approach that considers the entire life cycle of product or service. It thinks about cradle to cradle, from raw materials extraction, processing, manufacturing, production, distribution and end use with recycling, reparability and disposal. Eco-design is an elastic and evolving concept that ensures to design eco-friendly products. (Learn more about Eco-design)

(Source: Springerlink)

Cleaner Production

Cleaner production ensures clean products, services and process with aims to reduce input of harmful materials, non-renewable energy and also minimize waste and emission flow.

Cleaner production can be first strategy to turn business and economy into a circular system. This preventive environmental management strategy promotes eliminating waste before it is created and systematically reduce overall pollution generation, and also improve efficiencies of resource use. (International declaration on cleaner production: implementation guidelines for facilitating organizations)

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Design for Environment (DfE)

DfE is the original name of a United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program, created in 1992, works to prevent pollution, and the risk pollution presents to humans and the environment. EPA aims to design and redesign products & processes to collaborate business opportunities with environmental considerations to meet the consumer’s demand for eco-friendly products and remain in the global competitive market. The major benefits of DfE are cost savings and cost-effectiveness, reduced business and environmental risks, expanded business and market opportunities. (Design for the Environment Program Partnerships for a Cleaner Future)

Circular economy at meso level, defines the production system and development of eco-industrial park, industrial symbiosis districts and networks where exchange and sharing of resources, byproducts and information involved (Yuan et al., 2006; Chertow, 2012, 2000; Su et al., 2013).

“The essence of industrial symbiosis is taking full advantage of by-product utilization, while reducing residual products or treating them effectively. The term is usually applied to a network of independent companies that exchange by-products and possibly share other common resources”

(Zhu et al., 2007)

Eco cities, collaborative consumption models, innovative waste management and zero-waste programmes are the strategies of a circular economy at the macro level (Ghisellini et al., 2016)Collaborative Consumption Models enhances sharing, bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting where ownership will be provided to multiple consumers. Environmental impacts can be eliminated by collaborative consumption activities like by sharing cars or other services rather than using individual owned services. On the other hand, Innovative Waste Management and Zero Waste Programmes focus to recycling materials to recover more resources. Though it’s difficult to recycle all the wastes, by waste prevention approach of source reduction can make it easier to produce less waste and reduce the need for landfills. The zero-waste can be achieved by substituting virgin materials by proper innovative waste management and resource recovery.

Success story of Circular Economy

Kalundborg Eco-Industrial park (EIP) in Denmark is the top-bottom network of industrial symbiosis where a circular system is generated by the use of each other’s byproducts and sharing resources. Currently, 30 exchanges of materials occur among actors where the Asnæs Power Station, a 1500 MW coal-fired power plant is at the center part. Surplus heat used to heat 3500 local homes and also a nearby fish farm whose sludge sold as organic fertilizer. Steam from power plant is sold to Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical and enzyme manufacture and also to Statoil oil refinery. The Asnæs Power Station provides steam residuals to Statoil refinery that meets 40% of its steam demand, in exchange Statoil refinery provides waste gas. Power plant generate electricity and steam by waste gas. Moreover, sulfur dioxide scrubber contains gypsum another byproduct from power plants sold to a wallboard manufacturer. Fly ash and clinker from power plant is used in road building and cement production. Around 3,000 cubic meters per day Sludge from Novo Nordisk refined to produce biogas for power plant . (Chertow, 2000; Ehrenfeld and Gertler, 1997).

Reusing of heat reduces thermal pollution, circulating sulfur dioxide scrubber minimized the need of landfill. Sharing of byproducts and resources increased economic efficiency and environmental benefit.

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Figure: Industrial symbiosis in Kalundborg, Denmark (Source: Researchgate)

All of these circular exchanges saved water use, fuel consumption and input of chemicals. In 1997, Asnaes saved around 30,000 tons of coal (~2% of throughput) by using Statoil (large oil refinery) fuel gas and 200,000 tons of fly ash and clinker avoided from landfill (Ehrenfeld and Gertler, 1997). This system becoming more comprehensive in its ability and efficiency to save groundwater, because in 2002 exchanges contributed about 95% of the total water supply of the power plant. But still more improvement can occur as out of 1.2 million cubic meter of wastewater, only 9000 cubic meter is treated to reuse in Statoil refinery (Jacobsen, 2006). A study shows that in 2004, total annual savings of 2.9 million cubic meter of ground water, 1 million cubic meters of surface water, 1,70,000 tons of gypsum and 53 Tn avoidance of sulfur dioxide. These interchanges causes annual savings of up to 15 million US$ with investment around 78.5 million US$, and total accumulated savings estimated around 310 million US$ (Domenech and Davies, 2011). The circular economy that created in Kalundborg provides a combination benefits in economy and environment.

The world linear economy is highly needs a move towards circular economy. There is many scopes and strategies that can benefit business, economy as well as environment in combine. Through circular economy we can success to generate more cleaner production, design for environment, eco-cities, zero waste generation, high rate of recycling, reusing, more use of renewable energy and etc. All these can ensure to emerge a regenerative system in the economy and environment. Many wastes can be value-added to resources, use of secondary materials in production process and increase efficiency. That minimize pressure on raw materials extraction, energy use, water use, labor force and reduce more environmental burdens. Though this emerging topic need more research but it can be one of the holistic approaches to achieve sustainability in future.


Chertow, M.R., 2000. INDUSTRIAL SYMBIOSIS: Literature and Taxonomy. Annu. Rev. Energy. Environ. 25, 313–337.

Domenech, T., Davies, M., 2011. Structure and morphology of industrial symbiosis networks: The case of Kalundborg. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 4th & 5th UK Social Networks Conferences 10, 79–89.

Ehrenfeld, J., Gertler, N., 1997. Industrial Ecology in Practice: The Evolution of Interdependence at Kalundborg. Journal of Industrial Ecology 1, 67–79.

Ellen Macarthur Foundation, 2012. Towards the Circular Economy. Available: http:// (accessed 10.09.13.).

Geissdoerfer, M., Savaget, P., Bocken, N.M.P., Hultink, E.J., 2017. The Circular Economy – A new sustainability paradigm?

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, Towards Post Fossil Carbon Societies: Regenerative and Preventative Eco-Industrial Development 114, 11–32.

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Prendeville, S., Sanders, C., Sherry, J., Costa, F., 2014. Circular economy: is it enough. EcoDesign Centre, Wales, available from: http://www. edcw. org/en/resources/circulareconomy-it-enough, Accessed on July 21, 2014.

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Su, B., Heshmati, A., Geng, Y., Yu, X., 2013. A review of the circular economy in China: moving from rethoric to implementation. J. Clean. Prod. 42, 215e277.

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Zhu, Q., Lowe, E.A., Wei, Y., Barnes, D., 2007. Industrial symbiosis in China: a case study of the Guitang Group. Journal of Industrial Ecology 11, 31–42.

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Etamoni Chakma

Hi, I'm Etamoni Chakma, an environmental science professional and top-rated academic writer on Upwork. With my education and research experience, I aim to create informative and inspiring content advocating for environmental protection. My passion is to educate and encourage people to take action for the betterment of our planet.