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In May 2015, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) started a review of issues related to the ‘circular economy’. The circular economy involves many aspects of science, technology and social science but this commentary is intended to contribute to the debate between stakeholders on the principles and objectives of the European Commission’s policy. This has been compiled by a Working Group of scientists and economists nominated by member academies of EASAC.
This commentary provides background on natural and social science aspects relevant to policy development on the circular economy; it may be used to inform debate on the principles and broad approach to the circular economy. It reviews the benefits foreseen for a circular economy and potential risks for the transition phase. In a world of increasing population and per capita consumption where existing levels of consumption of resources are already well above sustainable levels, improving the efficiency with which humanity uses resources is a priority. However, barriers that stand in the way of a transition to a circular economy are substantial and increased by some current trends in corporate and consumer behaviour. EASAC accepts the rationale for, and potential qualitative benefits of, the circular economy. However, there are uncertainties over models used in quantifying the benefits, and questions remain over transition to a circular economy. Further research options to reduce these uncertainties are identified.