Blockchains, Property Rights and Circular Economy Policies: The Case of Waste Management and Governance

  • Katrien Steenmans (Speaker)
  • Phillip Taylor (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


In the context of concurrent global waste and resource crises, there is significant interest in transitioning towards resource efficient and circular economies at all levels, where resource and waste streams are reused, recycled, or recovered instead of sent to landfill or incinerated in order to achieve both economic prosperity and environmental protection. Many laws and policies have been adopted for this very purpose, such as the European Union’s 2018 Circular Economy Package and Germany’s Closed Substance Cycle and Waste Management Act of 1996. The challenge lies with operationalising such transitions. Property rights in resources and wastes are one key influential component that can facilitate these by influencing resource and waste governance, but fundamental questions remain: How can we monitor who owns waste? Can we systematically track where wastes end up? While laws and policies need answers to these questions, critical practical challenges remain, which blockchain technology can address. This paper therefore examines the relationship between blockchains, property rights and policies. In particular, we explore how blockchains can clarify property rights in products and wastes to support public policy goals of resource efficient and circular economy approaches to production and consumption.

A two-fold approach is adopted in this paper. First, we explain why blockchains are useful for property rights by identifying the gaps in waste laws and policies that can be addressed by both clearer property rights and different types of property rights (such as private, communal, state, and no property). The abandonment of waste is, for example, not permitted in the European Union, yet it still occurs in the form of litter. Blockchains could be used to address this challenge by monitoring who owns the waste and where it ends up. Blockchains may also help facilitate different kinds of property rights in waste and thus avoiding waste being solely viewed as a commodity, and thereby support the public policy aim of preventing waste production while ensuring circular approaches where it is created.

Second, we set out what blockchains offer for different property rights systems – specifically private, state, communal, and no property approaches. In doing so, the risks, challenges and opportunities presented for the stakeholders involved in waste management and governance, the data capture requirements, and interface requirements are described. This is a particularly important contribution as blockchains are typically employed to support and underpin traditional private relationships. Furthermore, this investigation will inform a discussion of the combined top-down and bottom-up governance approaches that blockchains can facilitate, which can be valuable for ensuring accountability and legitimacy of public policy.

This paper thus fits with the T02P14 panel as it is a conceptual study that evaluates the effects of blockchains on public service delivery of resource efficient and circular economy approaches to waste management for the purpose of examining the different opportunities, challenges and risks that arise from such possible adoption.
Period27 Jun 2019
Event title4th International Conference on Public Policy
Event typeConference
LocationMontreal, CanadaShow on map