What is circular economy ?

To answer this question, we can quote Antoine Lavoisier, an 18th century philosopher :

“Nothing creates itself, nothing gets lost, all change”

Indeed, one of the objectives of the circular economy is to create flows that allow us to re-inject our “waste” into loops in order to recover it. However, the circular economy is not limited to the end-of-life management of products. This alternative model offers multiple high-performance and sustainable solutions compared to our linear economic model, which we will present below.

The linear economy : our current economic model

Before introducing you to the notion of a circular economy, we must first present the concept that opposes it: the linear economy, our current economic model. The linear economy is the economy as we know it today and has been prevailing since the first industrial revolution. It consists of « extracting, producing, consuming and disposing ».

The circular economy : a more sustainable model

Thus, we need to change our economic model and take concrete actions, beyond recycling, to reduce the environmental and social impact of our consumption patterns. The circular economy is a solution that more and more businesses, communities and citizens are turning to in order to produce and consume in a more sustainable way.

At the European level, there is a European circular economy prosecutor’s office, which has amended existing directives to adapt them to the principles of the circular economy, in particular for waste management. One of the major objectives of the European Union is to recycle 65% of municipal waste by 2030.

In France, the government uses the ADEME definition of the circular economy as well as the life cycle approach of a product (from eco-design to recycling) :

  • In 2018, the Circular Economy Roadmap has put in place regulatory measures to encourage businesses to undertake circular economy initiatives. For example, the circular tax allows to reduce the externalities of sustainable offers and some sectors, like the packaging, construction and automobile industries, have the obligation to integrate recycled materials in their new products.
  • In February 2020, the Anti-Waste Law for a Circular Economy was enacted. The issues addressed in this law are: getting rid of disposable plastic, better informing the consumer, fighting against waste and for solidarity reuse, acting against programmed obsolescence and better production. The recycling objectives of this law will reduce the carbon impact as much as the planned closure of the four coal-fired power plants in France.

Circular economy pillars

Les 7 piliers schéma final

We could think circular economy is merely represented by the end of life of a product. However, this model goes way beyond just recycling

Indeed, recycling is just one of the 7 pillars defining circular economy. These pillars are divided into 3 main areas that each represents one part of life-cycle of a product or service. 

Economic stakeholders supply

Implement circular economy approaches on 4 pillars upstream the life-cycle of a product or service. 

Consumers' demand and behaviour

Implement circular econonomy approaches while buying or using a product or service.

Waste management

Implement a circular economy approach downstream the life-cycle of a product or service. 

Circular economy can also be perceived at different levels :

The circular economy
At the “local” or “product approach” level, which consists mainly of using less energy and materials.
The genuinely circular economy
A more global approach and takes into account all of society’s flows in terms of resource consumption.
The perma-circular economy
An economy that adjusts to planetary limits and tends to reduce flows in general.

The transition to a circular economy is under way. Businesses, through eco-design, are producing more durable goods. Territories are increasing their autonomy by using renewable resources and developing local networks. Finally, citizens, through their implications and commitments, are changing their consumption patterns to be more responsible.

In order for a circular economy approach to be successful, it is necessary to experiment, innovate, work over the long term, have a systemic vision and promote proximity and cooperation between the players. This is what CirculAgronomie wants to promote. Thanks to our online encyclopedia, enriched year after year by analyzing projects from around the world, we wish to highlight the diversity of circular economy approaches and their success. We want to demonstrate that the alliance of sustainability and economic performance is possible.


The information with ** comes from the MOOC Circular Economy and Innovation proposed by the Université Virtuelle Environnement et Développement Durable (UVED) and accessible free of charge on fun-mooc.fr. (in French)

Here is a video made by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, to help you understand what is the Circular Economy :

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