Material Monday Sustainable Series Insight: Circular Economy

Material Monday Sustainable Series Insight: Circular Economy

Posted 3 June 2019 by Katie Kubrak

Raw materials are fundamental in the production of all packaging, goods and products used in everyday life. Their availability stands in correlation to pricing, which directly translates into growth and competitiveness of the brand. A range of factors, such as growth of electrical and electronic equipment industry (EEE), continue to influence an increased demand for these.

With growing use of critical raw materials (CRMs) its virgin form needs to be continually extracted anew due to insufficient recycling input rate. All diagrams presented below showcase this on an example of EEE where a big market gap in reuse and recycling of these valuable resources is most alarming. Issue however extends to other raw elements, and in result, many stand shortages and are in risk of running out in the decades to come.

Above: Simplified Sankey diagrams for materials used predominantly in the EEE sector: (a) Gallium (b) Germanium (c) Indium and (d) Dysprosium. Values for the EU-28 expressed in t/year for the year 2012 based on the 2015. All showcase big market gap in reuse and recycling of these valuable resources.


Such alarming forecast needs to be accounted for not only in the production predictions or implementations but also find strong rooting in the universal thinking approach, design of products, services and more. Furthermore, aforementioned situation requires adaptation of new approach models such as closed looped systems and circular economy proposition.

A circular economy seeks to rebuild capital, whether this is financial, manufactured, human, social or natural. This aims to enhance flows of goods and services without the need of consuming virgin raw materials and resources. Proposed model is presented below and illustrates the continuous flow of technical and biological materials through the ‘value circle’.

Implementation of circular economy model is based on 3 principles. These break down into:

  1. Preserve and enhance natural capital by controlling finite stocks and balancing renewable resources flows through ReSolve levers: regenerate, virtualise and exchange.
  2. Optimise resource yields by circulating products, components and materials in use at the highest utility at all times in both technical and biological cycles through ReSolve levers: regenerate, share, optimise, loop.
  3. Foster system effectiveness by revealing and designing out negative externalities through all ReSolve levers.

Some of the benefits of adopting a circular economy model include:

  • secure supply chain for decades to come
  • efficient management of resources throughout their lifecycle
  • production of less waste per tonne of material extracted
  • phasing out landfilling to non-recyclable and non-recoverable waste
  • lower energy and water use
  • lower impacts on the biosphere (rainforests, arctic regions, ocean floors etc.)
  • maximising recycling and re-use
  • limiting incineration to non-recyclable materials
  • on-trend consumer messaging

All of the above information is based on the Circular Economy report released by Ellen MacArthur Foundation as well as report on critical raw materials and the circular economy published by European Commission. If you are interested to get more information on circular economy or relevant case studies, please feel free to get in touch. Alternatively, stay up to date with our Sustainable Series as we will be publishing more case studies and materials in the coming weeks.