The expression “circular economy” has come to cover a range of sustainable processes such as economic restoration and regeneration, new methods of production and consumption, and waste reduction. The EC’s Circular Economy Package has boosted interest in the CE but it’s not obvious in European policies what role consumers have - even though they’re vital to make the CE work. For the role of consumers to become an integral part of CE policy planning, we need to identify what the differences are in how consumers and policy-makers perceive a ‘circular economy’; because when these perceptions are aligned, consumers are more likely to accept and act on the policies.

An article in the European Journal of Sustainable Development (see link below) has done just that. The article tests the public’s perception of the circular economy in five areas: shared use of products, incentivised return, product design, waste reduction and sustainable food production. It turns out that the public considers waste an important topic and want policies that will develop the circular economy; climate issues are also seen as important.

But some things the public thought important are not accounted for in policies, such as the context of energy issues, and how future outcomes will affect social aspects such as humanity, equality, diversity and universality.

These findings suggest that circular economy as a policy area is still largely dominated by the perceptions of specialist professionals. There is a clear gap between what the public and experts think the circular economy is, and so the circular economy has been confined to the margins of policy. Were that not the case, the public’s concerns would have informed policy!

“The formulation of priority areas at the European level and in a number of European countries has been a significant step…”, says the article. But it calls for more focus on “energy issues, social topics and closer embedding with climate change policies”, and more policies that take local issues into consideration to make them more accessible to the consumers who – in the end - are the ones who will turn circular economy policy into circular economy action in Europe.

At Oakdene Hollins, the experience we have had suggests that although the public may not have the same terminology as experts, they see the need for the underlying principles of the circular economy. Examples include:

  • People contacting us because they do not know what to do with used uniforms but know that landfilling them is not right.
    Circular economy term = waste valorisation
  • The increase in people annoyed with products not lasting as long as they used to.
    Circular economy term = Product obsolescence
  • A greater interest in the recycled content of products.
    Circular economy term = increased use of secondary materials

The terminology misalignment means that marketeers have their jobs cut out to ensure that the work being done at an operational level is shared with the public, who are becoming increasingly interested in the impact of consumption.

Alternatively, companies risk pleasing the policy makers and missing the market benefits of becoming more circular.  If you don't want that to happen to you, contact Owain Griffiths on Tel: 01296 423915 or Email: owain.griffiths@oakdenehollins.com

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