Institut für Soziale Ökologie
ABSTRACT: In recent years, the Circular Economy (CE) has become an appealing strategy for sustainable development that is being promoted by industries and governments in several industrial and emerging economies, such as the European Union, Japan and China. The concept aims at reducing input of virgin materials and output of wastes by closing material loops. A closer look at literature promoting CE reveals a lack of precise definitions and assessment criteria. In our talk, we refer to a simple but analytically useful definition which states that, in a CE, material flows are either made up of biogenic materials designed to re-enter the biosphere, or (mineral) materials designed to circulate within the economy. Against this backdrop we portray the actual material flows through the global society and regroup the materials according to their circularity features (non-circular, ecological cycling and socioeconomic cycling potential) for different points in time across the last century. In addition to discussing potential circularity we discuss actual cycling by focusing on recycling and carbon neutral biomass production. The results show that the global society’s circularity decreased from 1900 to 1980 and stays since then on the same level. Major issues are the high use of fossil fuels and waste rock, both to be classified as non-circular materials. Further the high level of stock piling in the last decade keeps materials within the socioeconomic system and thus only makes socioeconomic cycling feasible when stocks are demolished or discarded.
Sophie Koppensteiner (sophie.koppensteiner [at] aau.at)