Commodification of Waste: Legal and Theoretical Approaches to Industrial Symbiosis as Part of a Circular Economy

Katrien Steenmans, Rosalind Malcolm, Jane Marriott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Waste can be conceived as pollution or a resource; pollution in relation to the vast amounts of waste produced that need to be managed, while a resource in that waste can be used as the virgin material in production processes. In both cases, waste is currently most commonly treated as an economic good and thus commodified as a result of approaching the ownership of goods from a Blackstonian absolute dominion perspective. In this paper we present a critique of this classic form of property ownership as it aids linear cradle to grave approaches to waste. In advocating a move towards circular systems for using waste, we propose the adopting of a Lockean conception of property. For this purpose we address three issues: (1) current property rights in waste; (2) alternative approaches to waste; and (3) impacts of applying Locke’s theory. First, we address when an object becomes classified as waste, who owns waste and when ownership changes hands. In discussing the latter, a critique of the classic forms of property ownership that support linear approaches is presented. Secondly, we investigate appropriate property regimes to address these critiques, namely extended producer responsibility and common-pool resource approaches. Finally, the seminal example of industrial symbiosis in Kalundborg, Denmark, is used to provide context for discussions using Locke’s property theory on the feasibility and implications of our property rights discussions and recommendations. Industrial symbiosis is a structure where waste is exchanged between industries within a given network or grouping forming micro-circular economies. In this symbiotic network, waste is thus diverted from landfill and other forms of disposal, thereby lessening the impact of the waste stream on the environment and the economy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2017-26
Journal University of Oslo Faculty of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series
Issue number26
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jun 2017


  • property rights
  • common-pool resources
  • industrial symbiosis
  • waste


Dive into the research topics of 'Commodification of Waste: Legal and Theoretical Approaches to Industrial Symbiosis as Part of a Circular Economy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this