Resource recovery from post-consumer waste: important lessons for the upcoming circular economy
Journal article, 2015
A circular economy has been proposed as a sustainable alternative to our current linear economic system,
mainly by recirculating material resources for new product development. To understand resource recirculation in practice, this paper analyses over 50 examples of products developed from discarded materials, categorising them into the recovery routes described in the circular economy literature. The examples were obtained during interviews with waste management professionals and designers who
had developed products with discards. Practical challenges to implementing a circular economy were identified based on the example categorisation and comments from the interviews. The main difference observed was that the examples mostly recirculate resources to make different types of products, whereas a circular economy requires manufacturing companies to take back their own products to secure their material resources. This is partly because in practice the material collection system in place is waste
management, rather than manufacturing-centred take-back systems. A revised model for recovery routes in society in which waste management is allocated an important role in facilitating material recirculation is therefore presented. The study highlights that current product design is facing a new challenge of anticipating social, economic and environmental challenges to realise the goals of a circular economy.