The waste-resource paradox: Practical dilemmas and societal implications in the transition to a circular economy

Rachel Greer, Timo von Wirth, Derk Loorbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

The European Union has vowed to transition from a linear to a circular economy (CE). Many innovations, new business models, and policies have begun to emerge to support the push for further institutionalizing CE practices. A large portion of these attempts are based on transforming a flow currently labeled as a waste stream into a value proposition, i.e. a resource. However, this ironically increases the risk of creating a demand for these waste streams, which thereby may become commodified. In this article, we unpack the inherent dilemmas and implications created by this phenomenon, which we define as the Waste-Resource Paradox (WRP). Understanding the WRP is highly relevant, as its manifestation may lead to situations in which the further establishment of “circular” practices may reinforce linear economy by sustaining a waste (over)production in the system or causing undesired social or environmental repercussions. This can tighten a lock-in of the existing linear structures counteractive to CE that have not been explicitly identified or explored to date. We observed that the WRP may evolve and morph throughout time, across boundaries or respective to different societal sectors. Based on our findings, we highlight the profound implications of the WRP for the future of circularity and the potential consequences for a transition to CE.

Original languageEnglish
Article number126831
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Volume303
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No 730254 within the Sustainable Urbanization Global Initiative (SUGI) from JPI Urban Europe. Rachel L. Greer receives national funding through the Dutch Research Council (project number 438-17-405). These funders had no involvement in the design, data handling, or writing of this publication. We would also like to thank Maria Fraaije and Kate Snow Design for the conceptualization and design of the graphical abstract and figure.

Funding Information:
This research received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No 730254 within the Sustainable Urbanization Global Initiative (SUGI) from JPI Urban Europe . Rachel L. Greer receives national funding through the Dutch Research Council (project number 438-17-405). These funders had no involvement in the design, data handling, or writing of this publication. We would also like to thank Maria Fraaije and Kate Snow Design for the conceptualization and design of the graphical abstract and figure.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors

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