The circular economy is much more than a recycling economy or a sharing economy. It's both, and more. Here is how we see it.

Our definition

The circular economy is an economic system where products and materials are kept at their maximum value and functionality. The starting point is to take a product perspective instead of a material perspective, and the aim is to set up closed-loops in which the complexity and functionality of a product is conserved for as long as possible, rather than breaking a product down into its basic materials after each use cycle. 

How to get there

Setting this new system up requires a systemic change: a disruption of the existing patterns and habits, a change in the behaviour of producers as well as consumers. We need different types of products and services, a new legislative framework and a stronger interaction between people. Digitisation and new technology helps us do this. It allows us to do things we could not do before. It allows us to produce things in new ways. It helps us manage products more sustainably. And it helps us reuse, repair and share.

We are noticing that the term ‘circular economy’ is easily and quickly adopted and used by many actors. And it’s precisely because the term ends up in the mainstream in this way that it is important to remain critical, to engage in debate, to continue evaluating whether we are on course to the right goal. We must prevent our current habits from simply getting a new circular label.

Karl Vrancken
Research manager Sustainable Materials - VITO