Circular Economy

July 10, 2020 • Volume 30, Issue 25
Can companies renounce a “take-make-waste” model?
By Barbara Mantel


A growing number of companies worldwide are attempting to reimagine their businesses to keep their products and components continuously in use. Prodded by shareholders, environmentalists and governments, they are signing on to the concept of a circular economy, in which goods are designed to be easily shared, reused, refurbished, harvested for parts and eventually recycled for their raw materials. The goal is to eliminate waste and reduce pollution and the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. China and the European Union are leading the way, investing money and creating new laws and regulations to accelerate a transition to a circular economy. In the United States, individual states are passing laws that require producers to finance and manage take-back programs for their products. But progress has been slow. Analysts estimate that 8.6 percent of the world economy is circular, down from 9.1 percent two years ago. And some question whether the circular economy will yield the promised environmental benefits, while others say progress will rest on customers changing their behavior.

An electrician in Las Vegas replaces a streetlight with an energy-efficient LED bulb (Getty Images/Ethan Miller)
An electrician in Las Vegas replaces a streetlight with an energy-efficient LED bulb. One company, Signify, is leasing these bulbs to municipalities as part of an effort to encourage longer use of products. (Getty Images/Ethan Miller)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Environmental Protection
Mar. 17, 2023  Forever Chemicals
Sep. 02, 2022  Preserving the Seas
Jun. 17, 2022  Plastic Pollution
Dec. 17, 2021  Endangered Species
Nov. 06, 2020  Preventing Wildfires
Jul. 10, 2020  Circular Economy
Nov. 29, 2019  Climate Change and Health
Sep. 20, 2019  Extreme Weather
Dec. 07, 2018  Plastic Pollution
Dec. 02, 2016  Arctic Development
Apr. 22, 2016  Managing Western Lands
Jul. 18, 2014  Regulating Toxic Chemicals
Sep. 20, 2013  Future of the Arctic
Jun. 14, 2013  Climate Change
Nov. 06, 2012  Vanishing Biodiversity
Nov. 02, 2012  Managing Wildfires
Nov. 04, 2011  Managing Public Lands
Aug. 26, 2011  Gulf Coast Restoration
Jul. 2010  Plastic Pollution
Feb. 2010  Climate Change
Jan. 09, 2009  Confronting Warming
Dec. 05, 2008  Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
Nov. 2008  Carbon Trading
Oct. 03, 2008  Protecting Wetlands
Feb. 29, 2008  Buying Green
Dec. 14, 2007  Future of Recycling
Nov. 30, 2007  Disappearing Species
Feb. 2007  Curbing Climate Change
Dec. 01, 2006  The New Environmentalism
Jan. 27, 2006  Climate Change
Oct. 25, 2002  Bush and the Environment
Oct. 05, 2001  Invasive Species
Nov. 05, 1999  Saving Open Spaces
Jun. 11, 1999  Saving the Rain Forests
May 21, 1999  Setting Environmental Priorities
Mar. 19, 1999  Partisan Politics
Oct. 16, 1998  National Forests
Jun. 19, 1998  Environmental Justice
Aug. 23, 1996  Cleaning Up Hazardous Wastes
Mar. 31, 1995  Environmental Movement at 25
Jun. 19, 1992  Lead Poisoning
May 15, 1992  Jobs Vs. Environment
Jan. 17, 1992  Oil Spills
Sep. 20, 1991  Saving the Forests
Apr. 26, 1991  Electromagnetic Fields: Are They Dangerous?
Sep. 08, 1989  Free Market Environmental Protection
Dec. 09, 1988  Setting Environmental Priorities
Jul. 29, 1988  Living with Hazardous Wastes
Dec. 20, 1985  Requiem for Rain Forests?
Aug. 17, 1984  Protecting the Wilderness
Jun. 15, 1984  Troubled Ocean Fisheries
Aug. 19, 1983  America's Disappearing Wetlands
Feb. 22, 1980  Noise Control
Nov. 16, 1979  Closing the Environmental Decade
Oct. 13, 1978  Toxic Substance Control
Feb. 27, 1976  Pollution Control: Costs and Benefits
Nov. 28, 1975  Forest Policy
May 30, 1975  Wilderness Preservation
Dec. 20, 1974  Environmental Policy
Nov. 14, 1973  Strip Mining
Dec. 01, 1971  Global Pollution
Jul. 21, 1971  Protection of the Countryside
Jan. 06, 1971  Pollution Technology
Jun. 19, 1968  Protection of the Environment
Oct. 30, 1963  Noise Suppression
Air Pollution
Climate Change
Congress Actions
Consumer Behavior
Consumer Protection and Product Liability
Earth Sciences
Economic Analyses, Forecasts, and Statistics
Exports and Imports
Forests and Rangelands
International Law and Agreements
Manufacturing and Industrial Production
Party Politics
Recycling and Solid Waste
Regulation and Deregulation
Renewable Energy Resources and Alternative Fuels
Water Pollution