Pioneers of the future: the countries leading the way with circular economy policy

Measuring success

Helen Burdett is head of circular economy at the World Economic Forum (WEF). She agrees that there are no simple, one-size-fits-all metrics that enable us to definitively rank nations in a ‘circular economy league table’, and that such assessments of circularity require greater nuance. ‘It’s complicated,’ she says. ‘But a lot of smart people are working on it.’ Not-for-profit organisation Circle Economy, for example, has, for many years, come up with a global circular economy metric; the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy has a working group looking at metrics; while the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) is also looking to devise them. ‘One of the challenges is not only about measurement — it is also about identifying the right indicators,’ says Burdett.

Circle Economy methodology

Circle Economy, based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, aims to accelerate practical and scalable solutions to put the circular economy into action. Recognising the need to accurately measure the circular economy to understand how we can move towards circularity or monitor progress effectively, it developed the first Circularity Gap Report, which was published in January 2018.

The Netherlands

The Dutch government’s goal of full circularity by 2050, and 50% circular by 2030, makes it a clear frontrunner in Europe, according to Circle Economy. This includes the interim objective of a 50% reduction in the use of primary raw materials minerals, fossil fuels and metals — by 2030.

China

China was a very early adopter of the technical circular economy, and a leader in driving legislative packages that explicitly targeted the circular economy. As far back as 2006, its 11th Five-Year Plan mentioned the circular economy and, in 2008, it adopted its Circular Economy Promotion Law. Today, according to Circle Economy, the circular economy is presented as a viable economic reform model and as a central building block of China’s vision of a harmonious society. It is centrally planned, focuses on cleaner production, and resonates with industrial ecology principles.

Japan

Japan is another early circular economy innovator, with a number of policies introduced since the early 2000s to reduce, reuse and recycle. A densely populated, highly industrial and resource-constrained country, Japan adopted ambitious waste-management policies early. Today, it boasts impressive recycling rates, empowered by a culture of collaboration and continuous industrial innovation. While its policies have not always been explicitly linked to the circular economy, they are a source of inspiration for many practitioners.

Chile

Since hosting COP25, Chile has made great strides in environmental areas and its Roadmap for a circular Chile by 2040, published in June 2021, is an important pillar. It aims to generate 100,000 green jobs by 2030.

WEF global circular initiatives

The WEF is involved in a number of global initiatives to promote the transition to a circular economy, acting as a forum for public- and private-sector collaboration to drive the shift. These include the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy, which was launched in 2017 as a platform for public- and private-sector leaders to take commitments and accelerate collective action towards the circular economy. It consists of 80 public, private, international and civil society executive leaders, and more than 200 members, championing 18 projects across the globe since early 2019.

Government level

At a governmental level, Burdett believes the approach an administration takes towards integrating a circular strategy within government itself will have a direct impact on how effectively it can develop and implement policy.

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Circle Economy

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