Circular Economy, a pillar of the European Green Deal, is an increasingly recognized approach
that has much to contribute towards addressing challenges of the Anthropocene. Circular Economy promises to close the circle of economy-society-nature interactions, replacing the current linear economic model with a new one that is restorative and regenerative by intention and design i.e., capable of turning waste into valuable resources. Despite its growing popularity among politicians, businesses leaders and
academics, the concept of circular economy and its underlying principles are not without critics and challenges.
The lack of consideration of socio-ethical issues is a major criticism of the circular economy and it is the main focus of the H2020 Project “JUST2CE” (A JUst Transition TO the Circular Economy). The point of departure of our criticism relies on the fact that the current visions of circular economy are narrowly focused on the economy and technology, with a patent lack of a reflection on the political and socio-cultural dimensions as well as on the unintended global consequences that a transition to circularity would entail. Overall, questions of justice (social, environmental and gender) have remained unanswered by the circular economy literature.
Answering these challenges requires directing efforts towards extending the repertoire of social
scientific theories and conceptual frameworks that may inform the analysis of circular economy practices. In the tentative of filling this gap, this work proposes a multidimensional framework seeking to explore what are the practices that enable or hamper the transition to circular economy. More precisely, our framework proposes a novel manifesto towards a just circular economy based on humility.
Drawing upon empirical and conceptual elements from a variety of fields (such as Feminist Ecological Economics, Political Ecology, Environmental Justice, Decolonial studies), our framework provides an epistemological, theoretical and methodological scaffolding for the ethical questions we should be asking about the future of circular economy.
“Whose voices and interests are heard and whose voices and interests are neglected? How are costs, benefits and opportunities of circular economy distributed at different scales and among different social realities?” These leading questions and the multidimensional framework guide the analyses of ten cases of organisations engaged at different stages of transition towards circular economy.
The cases are heterogeneous in many respects: they into account different geographical contexts
(Italy, Spain, Portugal, United Kingdom, Morocco, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, South Africa), different
value chains (plastics, food, critical raw materials, etc.), different scale of analysis (from local to global
initiatives) and different types of institutional settings (formal/informal).
The insights gathered from the application of the multidimensional framework to the case-studies analyses will expand our understanding beyond the current monocentric technical focus of the circular economy practices.