How product characteristics can guide measures for resource efficiency - A synthesis of assessment studies
Journal article, 2020
A circular economy aims at decoupling value creation from resource throughput. For circular economy to contribute to environmental and resource improvements, there is need for critical assessments regarding in what general situations, beyond individual cases, solutions may lead to improvements. On the product-level, there is need for synthesized knowledge accounting for a wide range of contexts and environmental impacts. We investigate what resource efficiency (RE) measures result in reduced physical flows and environmental impacts, depending on the characteristics of products and their life cycles. The study is limited to physical measures on a product system level, irrespective of manner of implementation. A library of comparative assessments (primarily life cycle assessments and material flow analyses) was built, covering a wide range of products and RE measures. A framework was formulated for analysing for which product characteristics a measure tends to improve RE, and under which contexts there are trade-offs to take into account. For example, sharing of products is best suited for durable and infrequently used products that tend not to reach their full technical lifetime. A trade-off is that sharing can increase transportation for accessing shared stock. The identified key product characteristics were: whether products are consumable or durable, active or passive, typically used for their full technical lifetimes or discarded before being worn out, the product’s frequency of use and whether function remains at a product’s end of use. Pace of development matters for suitability of measures for active, durable products, while complexity is relevant for restorative measures and recycling.
Life Cycle Assessment