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Led by Utrecht, with Messina, Hull and Troyes

Partners: National government ministry, UK NGO promoting the CE, and the Universities of Ibadan, Nigeria and Nanjing, China

In order to accelerate circularity and realize the full potential of shorter material loops it is essential to take stock of the current practices and identify crucial barriers for a more systematic implementation of CE.  WP 1 will be analysing the state of the art in circular economy practices, many of which build on ideas that are not new.  The recent policy prominence of the topic in the EU has inspired much activity, but practice is variable, both by location and between different materials.

Aim: to provide understanding of the current CE discourses and practices across the world based on both primary and secondary data via the following objectives 1) To critically analyse the development of CE in science, policy and the market to provide a synthesis for all stakeholders to clarify the currently contradictory use of concepts; 2) To analyse policy and practice in CE internationally, to contextualise the effectiveness of policies relating to key materials and 3) To examine the processes governing flows of residues beyond Europe.

WP1 includes three ESR posts, with individual projects as follows:

ESR 1.1 Synthesis of discourses on circular economy and its key challenges

First supervisor: Vermeulen, Utrecht; co-supervisor Salomone, Messina

Based in Utrecht with secondments in Italy and the UK

There is as yet no consensus on what is meant by a circular economy, although many organisations and authors have an idea of what it should mean.  This project will analyses the discourses of the circular economy within the three key fields of science, policy and market to understand the diversity of views and the perspectives they represent.  Using existing publications, policy documents, reports on public debates, roundtables, policy meetings and stakeholder interviews, the ESR will undertake a sociological discourse analysis focusing on the specific policies and market programmes in the countries participating in the ITN.


  1. Discourse and policy analysis of existing approaches to the CE across different contexts (geographic and sectoral, e.g., industry, governmental, academic)
  2. Policy analysis of CE approaches, under lying policy theories and level of policy integration in selected EU member states and on European level, assessing alignment between political and academic discourses;
  3. Discourse analysis of modes of conceptualizing CE in diverse industries and product markets and the substantiation of claiming’s on positive impacts (circularity, sustainability);
  4. Cross comparison of the discourses in the academic, policy and business domains and identification of implications for action.

ESR 1.2 Comparative analysis of effects, successes and limitations of existing governance arrangements for key waste streams

First supervisor: Vermeulen, Utrecht; co-supervisor Dermine-Brullot, UTT

Based in Utrecht with secondments in NL, France and Italy

This project explores the significant variations in material recovery rates across the EU, drawing on EEA data and other studies.   It is important to understand these variations in order to consider to what extent ‘best practice’ is transferable.  We will select key material flows related to industrial sources, construction and demolition as well as waste and municipal waste. From these reviews we select key material flows in NL, UK, Italy and France and analyse the policy approaches and the quality of the monitoring and evaluation.  The project will seek to identify key strategies for accelerating the implementation of circularity, including the cascading principle and strategies for short loop circularity.


  1. Systematic analysis of key mechanisms in current waste hierarchy-based waste management strategies in selected member states, identifying the existing diversity in governance modes and instruments, key actors, instruments and institutional conditions
  2. Comparative analysis of existing evidence of effects, success and limitations of these strategies for key waste streams, using aggregate national level data (EU and focus countries) and selected case studies;
  3. Systematic analysis of the trajectories of usage of waste separated for recycling after collection and inspections phases. Analysis of strengths and weaknesses of current markets for recycled materials and the application of the cascading principle and strategies for short loop circularity; lonely
  4. Based on the above: identification of key strategies for accelerating the implementation of circularity.

ESR 1.3 CE Leakages to Less Developed Countries (LDCS) and alternatives

First supervisor Vermeulen, Utrecht; co-supervisor Deutz, Hull

Based in Utrecht with secondments in China, Nigeria and the UK

The aim of this project is to examine the relationship between Europe’s CE initiatives and the continuing leakage of European waste to developing countries.  Given that different parts of the world are progressing towards a circular economy at different rates, and using different strategies, it is important to examine the impacts of policies beyond their jurisdiction.  Leakage (illegal transport) of European waste to lower income countries, with less strict regulation, some 40 years after the appearance of recycling policies in Europe.  The recent policy change in China (refusing to accept hitherto legal shipments of waste for recycling) adds an extra dimension to this project, as new cost effective recycling solutions are sought by local authorities in Europe.  The project will examine trends and policies at both the European and non-European ends of the leakages, working with Nanjing University in China and Ibadan in Nigeria.


  1. Analyse current trends in waste leakages from Europe to LDCs (exports of materials, waste and used/2nd hand products), with focus on China and West Africa;
  2. Determine the key drivers and enablers of these trends;
  3. Explain the level of success of policy approaches to control these exports;
  4. Determine can innovative initiatives promoting ‘sustainable’ reuse in LDCs how reduce the negative impacts of such leakages.