Waste—the circular economy
Produced in partnership with Dr Ken Westlake of Westlake Associates

The following Environment practice note produced in partnership with Dr Ken Westlake of Westlake Associates provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Waste—the circular economy
  • Meaning of a ‘circular economy’
  • Origins of the concept
  • Principles of the circular economy
  • Phases of the circular economy
  • Policy and legislative developments
  • Status of EU directives following Brexit
  • Key Developments
  • Implementation in the outermost regions of Europe
  • Implementation in the UK

Waste—the circular economy

Meaning of a ‘circular economy’

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) defines a circular economy as ‘an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life’.

The concept is one that recognises the inherent value of wastes and views them as resources rather than materials to be disposed of. By bringing wastes back into use, either through re-use, recycling or recovery operations, then the impact of resource use upon the environment is significantly reduced because, among other considerations, the environmental impact associated with raw material mining and processing is eliminated. For further information on the waste hierarchy and waste recovery, see Practice Notes: Meaning of waste—waste hierarchy and Meaning of waste—recovery operations.

This approach is consistent with the goals of the EU 7th Environment Action Programme in Decision 1386/2013/EU inasmuch as the circular economy will help to ensure that European citizens will, by 2050, ‘live well but within the limits of the planet’; adoption of the principles of the circular economy will be critical in achieving these goals.

Origins of the concept

The term circular economy was coined by two British environmental economists David W. Pearce and R. Kerry Turner in

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