Circular economy is the new normal

Increased recycling could reduce demand for primary resources, leading to both risks and opportunities in developing countries dependent on the extraction of natural resources.

Linear production is a familiar cycle. Resources are extracted and transformed into goods and services, sold and used, after which they are scrapped.
This model has underpinned the expansion of the global economy since the industrial revolution.
It has linked material prosperity to the extraction of resources.  Yet, it has often overlooked the undue pressures placed on the environment.
Additionally, it has rarely considered the cost of handling, scrapping and disposing of used materials.  Importantly, some of these are hazardous to human health.
Consequently, as the global population increases, incomes rise and nations strive to eradicate poverty, demand for goods and services will necessarily grow.
The aim of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 12 on responsible consumption and production requires changing the linear production model.
The concept of a circular economy and practice therefore merits close attention.
A circular economy (often referred to simply as circularity) is an economic system aimed at minimizing waste and making the most of resources.
In a circular system resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing, and narrowing energy and material loops;
It can open new opportunities for trade and job creation, contribute to climate change mitigation and help reduce the costs of cleaning and scrapping in both developed and developing countries.

Key points

  • Keeping materials longer in the economy through reuse, repurposing or recycling could reduce 33 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions embedded in products.
  • Circularity requires a significant bridge between trade in goods and trade in services.
  • Increased recycling could reduce demand for primary resources, leading to both risks and opportunities in developing countries dependent on the extraction of natural resources.

UNCTAD Policy Brief No. 61.  Download full report here.

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