What is Circular Economy ?

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

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 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.

It is easy to think that the circular economy is reduced to the end-of-life management of a product. However, circular economy goes far beyond simple recycling. It is characterized by three main areas, each of which represents a part of the life cycle of a product or service. These 3 areas are themselves segmented into 7 pillars, or key concepts, to develop a circular economy approach.

First area : The offer of economic stakeholders

The first area is the offer of economic stakeholders which is characterized by 4 pillars. It allows the integration of circular economy approaches upstream of the life cycle of a product or service.

Second area : Consumer demand and behaviour

The second area of the circular economy is consumer demand and behavior and is characterized by 2 pillars. It allows the integration of circular economy approaches downstream of production, during the purchase and use of a product or service.

Third area : Waste management

Finally, the third area of the circular economy is waste management and is represented by a single pillar : recycling. It is a process that takes place downstream in the life cycle of a product.

The circular economy can 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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