How labour-intensive is the circular economy? A policy-orientated structural analysis of the repair, reuse and recycling activities in the European Union

Leandro Javier Llorente-González*, Xavier Vence

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The socio-economic structural conditions for the transition towards a circular economy (CE) are little explored, as most of the research is concerned with technical and organizational aspects. The few studies addressing the matter focus on the estimation of GDP growth and job creation potential of certain "circular activities” (CA). These CA are assumed to be labour-intensive, so job losses resulting from the paradigm shift should be offset by the overall gains. However, significant structural differences in the economic characteristics of these activities suggest that their development may have dissimilar socio-economic implications, while their promotion would require diverse policy instruments. This paper aims to study the current sectoral structure, main economic features and recent evolution of the CA in the European Union. The focus is on the 24 activities that, according to the NACE Rev. 2, compose the repair, reuse and recycling sectors, as a limited yet representative subset of all the CA currently bound and constrained within the predominant linear economy. Results show that significant differences in labour intensity exist between repair and reuse, on the one hand, and recycling, on the other. Besides, employment concentrates in low-wage labour-intensive CA, suggesting that more attention should be paid to improving competitiveness and working conditions in activities such as repair and reuse which are by definition both ecological and inclusive. Also, the structural heterogeneity of the activities under analysis imply the need for targeted policy instruments tailored to the specificities of each of the various CE sub-sectors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105033
JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
Volume162
Early online date9 Jul 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors belong to the ICEDE Galician Competitive Research Group GRC ED431C 2018/23 and to the CRETUS Strategic Partnership (ED431E 2018/01). The authors would like to thank the support from the Spanish Research Agency (AEI) through the project ECO-CIRCULAR: “La estrategia europea de transición a la economía circular: un análisis jurídico prospectivo y cambios en las cadenas globales de valor”—ECO2017–87142-C2–1-R, and from the “R2π: Transition from linear 2 circular: Policy and Innovation” H2020 Project . All these projects are co-funded by FEDER (EU). The authors would also like to express their gratitude to three anonymous reviewers for their valuable and constructive comments.

Funding Information:
The authors belong to the ICEDE Galician Competitive Research Group GRC ED431C 2018/23 and to the CRETUS Strategic Partnership (ED431E 2018/01). The authors would like to thank the support from the Spanish Research Agency (AEI) through the project ECO-CIRCULAR: ?La estrategia europea de transici?n a la econom?a circular: un an?lisis jur?dico prospectivo y cambios en las cadenas globales de valor??ECO2017?87142-C2?1-R, and from the ?R2?: Transition from linear 2 circular: Policy and Innovation? H2020 Project[sbnd]. All these projects are co-funded by FEDER (EU). The authors would also like to express their gratitude to three anonymous reviewers for their valuable and constructive comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier B.V.

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