Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Circular economy and the matter of integrated resources

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Beate Christgen



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2019A circular economy offers solutions for global sustainability challenges through the transition from the linear take-make-use-dispose economy to a better organisation of resources. However, realising a circular economy has ran into various biophysical constraints. Circular economy implementation is shaped by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's butterfly diagram that depicts ‘biological’ and ‘technical’ flows as separate cycles, subsequently interpreted as organic materials circulating in open loop systems via the environment and inorganic materials circulating in closed loop systems within society. Conversely, in our view, resource flows often contain tightly bound combinations of organic and inorganic materials either due to their natural composition or due to their technical design. Building on this observation, a new diagram is proposed that broadens the scope of the circular economy to cover extractive sectors and the return of materials from anthropogenic use to natural reserves, thereby reshaping the conceptual space within which solutions such as effective zero-waste-residue technologies, business models, and policies can be developed for the optimal management of integrated resources from a whole-system perspective. The diagram offers a realistic outlook on the biophysical limitations of circularity and endeavours to inspire discussion that supports the transition towards a sustainable circular economy.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Velenturf APM, Archer SA, Gomes HI, Christgen B, Lag-Brotons AJ, Purnell P

Publication type: Note

Publication status: Published

Journal: Science of the Total Environment

Year: 2019

Volume: 689

Pages: 963-969

Print publication date: 01/11/2019

Online publication date: 27/06/2019

Acceptance date: 26/06/2019

ISSN (print): 0048-9697

ISSN (electronic): 1879-1026

Publisher: Elsevier B.V.


DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.06.449