Renewable materials in the Circular Economy

The most widely used definition of the Circular Economy, distinguishes between technical and biological cycles. This report aims to highlight the role and benefits of responsibly sourced renewable materials in products of the CE’s technical cycle. Renewable material and resources used in the technical cycle link the concepts of bioeconomy and CE.

Summary

The most widely used definition of the Circular Economy (CE), that of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, distinguishes between technical and biological cycles. However, when addressing renewable (bio-based) materials it places a strong emphasis on their biodegradability. In doing so it tends to overlook the contribution that renewable feedstock and reuse and recycling of renewable materials can have on improving circularity and environmental performance.

This report therefore aims to highlight the role and benefits of responsibly sourced renewable materials in products of the CE’s technical cycle. Renewable material and resources used in the technical cycle link the concepts of bioeconomy and CE. It is argued that given the importance of both concepts in the transition to a sustainable society, it is crucial that neither strategy ends up in the shadow of the other. The contribution of renewable materials to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is also discussed with focus on goals 8, 12, 13 and 15.

The report emphasises that the ongoing benefits and contribution of renewable materials to the technical cycle of the CE concept requires increased recognition for the following reasons: o Reuse and recycling of renewable materials within the technical cycle is environmentally beneficial. o There are inherent environmental benefits of renewable based products compared to fossil-based ones. o Renewable/bio-based materials are already used, reused and recycled in the technical cycle. o The potential of technological and societal innovations for new applications of renewables and increased cyclic use of renewables can be further emphasized.

The primary message is that the field of CE should recognise more fully, in its approach and communication, that sustainability can be increased through the utilisation of renewables in the technical cycle. A major contribution is the reduction of climate change impacts, whilst other environmental impacts may require closer scrutiny depending on individual product circumstances. Finally, the bioeconomy and the CE are mutually supportive concepts, but this needs to be communicated more effectively to policy makers and a wider public, in order to facilitate the transition to a sustainable society.

Coworkers: Elin Eriksson, Steve Harris, Tomas Rydberg

Year: 2018.0

Report number: C296

Authors: Steve Harris, Louise Staffas, Tomas Rydberg, Elin Eriksson

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