Transitioning towards circular systems: Property rights in waste

Katrien Steenmans, Rosalind Malcolm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
113 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the impact that property rights can have on the implementation of circular waste economies, in which waste is reused, recycled or recovered, within the European Union’s Waste Framework Directive. Design/methodology/approach: A theoretical lens is applied to the legal definition as well as production and treatment cycle of waste to understand the property rights that can exist in waste. Findings: This paper argues that even though different property rights regimes can apply to waste during its creation, disposal and recovery, the waste management regulatory and legal system is currently predominantly set up to support waste within classic forms of private property ownership. This tends towards commodification and linear systems, which are at odds with an approach that treats waste as a primary wanted resource rather than an unwanted by-product. It is recommended that adopting state or communal property approaches instead could affect systemic transformative change by facilitating the reconceptualisation of waste as a resource for everyone to use. Research limitations/implications: The property rights issues are only one dimension of a bigger puzzle. The roles of social conceptualisation, norms, regulations and policies in pursuing circular strategies are only touched upon, but not fully explored in this paper. These provide other avenues that can be underpinned by certain property regimes to transition to circular economies. Originality/value: The literature focused on property rights in waste has been very limited to date. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this paper is the first to consider this question in detail from a legal perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-234
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Property, Planning and Environmental Law
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright © and Moral Rights are retained by the author(s) and/ or other copyright owners. A copy can be downloaded for personal non-commercial research or study, without prior permission or charge. This item cannot be reproduced or quoted extensively from without first obtaining permission in writing from the copyright holder(s). The content must not be changed in any way or sold commercially in any format or medium without the formal permission of the copyright holders.
This document is the author’s post-print version, incorporating any revisions agreed during the peer-review process. Some differences between the published version and this version may remain and you are advised to consult the published version if you wish to cite from it.


  • Circular economy
  • European Union
  • Property rights
  • Waste
  • Waste Framework Directive
  • Waste management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urban Studies
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Law


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