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Circular economy – a short history and main concepts

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The very idea of ​​the circular economy dates back to the 1960s when Boulding described the planet as a closed and circular system with limited assimilation capacity and which would require different economic principles. Based on this idea, in 1989, Pierce and Turner first mentioned the CE concept, believing that the traditional economy treats the environment as a waste tank.

The circular economy (CE) as such was introduced into legislation only in the 1990s.The pioneers in passing the CE law were Germany (1996), Japan (2000) and China (2003). Today, more and more countries are transforming their economies in the direction of applying the CE principles. In some European countries (Sweden, the Netherlands) studies are already being done to assess the progress made by the CE, with first impressions being positive.

Modern application of CE implies consideration of various policies related not only to waste management, but also those related to energy efficiency, energy conservation, water and land management and the like.

All in all, to date, 7 basic concepts on what exactly CE should look like have crystallized.The table below provides an overview of these ideas and their creators.

Regenerative designJohn T. LyleLyle laid foundation for the development of other schools of thought in CE, as he believed that regenerative design was not strictly related to agriculture, but was applicable in all other spheres as well. This idea greatly influenced the authors who dealt afterwards with this topic.
Performance economyWalter StahelStahel (architect and economist) developed the concept of the so-called closed loops, proposing the concept of selling services (performance), instead of selling the products themselves. The main goals that were on his mind are: prolonging life, maintenance and prevention of waste.
„Cradle to Cradle“Michael Braungart & William McDonoughBraungart (chemist) and McDonough (architect) upgraded the aforementioned variants and created a credible Cradle-to-Cradle concept and certification program. The concept is based on the assumption that all materials (technical and biological) are viewed as nutrients (“Waste = Food”). In addition, the concept encourages product and service designers to use solar energy, manage water to maximize quality, promote a healthy ecosystem, and respect local impacts. The authors emphasize that it is not only necessary to preserve the health of the ecosystem, but also to improve it through use.
Industrial ecologySimilar to the previously explained concept, industrial ecology explains the flow of materials and energy through industrial systems and processes. When designing the process, according to the industrial ecology, local ecological characteristics are taken into account, as well as the global context.
BiomimicryJanine BenyusAccording to the author, biomimicry is “a discipline that studies the best ideas from nature, and imitates that design and processes with the goal of solving human problems.” One example is the study of leaves with the aim of improving the efficiency of solar panels. There are three basic principles of biomimicry – nature as a model, nature as a measure, nature as a mentor.
Blue economyGunter PauliPauli, a Belgian entrepreneur, came up with the idea based on specific case studies, which were submitted to the famous Club of Rome in the form of a report. The blue economy is based on 21 principles and insists on solutions that determine local physical and environmental conditions, marking gravity as the primary source of energy.
PermacultureBill Mollison & David HolmgrenThe term permaculture originated in 1970 and is associated with the method of agricultural production. It includes the conscious design and maintenance of agricultural ecosystems that respect biodiversity, stability and resilience. It is a mixture of traditional and modern agriculture.
Main CE schools of thoughts


Ken Webster, The Circular Economy – Wealth of Flows, Ellen McArthur Foundation, 2017, str. 50-53

Ana Andabaka, Marija Beg, Tomislav Gelo, Challenges of circular economy in Croatia, International journal of multidisciplinarity in business and science, Zagreb, 2018, str. 116-118

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