Enabling the Circular Economy through Laws and Policies: Lessons Learnt from Northwestern Europe

  • Katrien Steenmans (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


The circular economy is a trillion US dollar law and policy agenda and innovation opportunity that can address a myriad of global concerns – including increasingly volatile resource prices, reduced resource availability, wasted resources – while creating jobs, promoting social entrepreneurship, and facilitative economic development. While there are several international examples of laws and policies supporting circular economy policies, such as China’s Circular Economy Promotion Law 2008 and the European Union’s 2015 Circular Economy Package, little scholarship has explored the legal and policy stumbling blocks.

The overarching research question explored in this paper is: how can law and policy enable initiation and sustainment of circular economy approaches? In particular, this paper draws on the experience of four case studies in which the circular economy has been operationalised in practice via symbiosis networks, where organisations exchange of waste and by-products. The multi-case study approach used to evidence and validate analysis of enabling laws and policies is supported by interviews, comparative and doctrinal researches. The four case studies investigated are located in Kalundborg (Denmark), Linköping and Norrköping (Sweden), Peterborough (UK), and Rotterdam (Netherlands).

The first part of this paper presents an Industrial Symbiosis Development Framework to structure the exploration and comparison of the four case studies across different socio-legal contexts. The second part of this paper explores the incentives and barriers created by laws and policies in practice at EU, national and local case study levels. At EU level, incentives include the 2015 Circular Economy Package, extended producer responsibility, waste management and prevention plans, and landfill tax, while the barriers predominantly centre on the definition of waste. At national and local levels, additional incentives are encompassed by focused national strategic plans, though there are building regulation and tax barriers as well as a number of missed opportunities in existing laws and policies.

The case studies illustrate that there is no absolute support for one particular law and policy system, but instead that an integrated regulatory approach is required to incentivise circular economy operationalisations. It is thus a mix of direct and indirect laws and policies with complementary bottom-up and down-down governance approaches that create favourable contexts for enabling circular economy approaches.

This paper fits with the T09P05 panel as it contributes evidence on particular law and policy barriers and enablers as identified through desk-based research and validated by interview participants (including national and local policymakers, researchers, and representatives from organisations directly involved in the industrial symbiosis).
Period27 Jun 2019
Event title4th International Conference on Public Policy
Event typeConference
LocationMontreal, CanadaShow on map