There is no doubt as to the negative impact that human activity exerts on the environment, and the international community has adopted a number of measures, such as the Paris Agreement, to minimize the medium-and long-term consequences. In Europe and Asia in particular, the concept of circular economy (CE) has become increasingly significant in view of this challenge. While calling for change to current business models, CE seeks greater efficiency in resource use and waste reduction. This report provides an analysis of relevant documentation and identifies the barriers and levers that could impact the transition toward a circular economy, whose potential benefits are also highlighted here. A number of sectors with significant potential in Quebec are brought to light, along with five case studies of organizations that already provide products and services within a circular economy.
This report adopts the following definition of circular economy set out by the Pôle de concertation québécois sur l'économie circulaire: A production, exchange and consumption system which optimizes the use of resources at all stages of the life cycle of a good or a service, in a circular logic, while reducing the environmental footprint and contributing to the well-being of individuals and communities.
A range of strategies, mechanisms and tools may be adopted to develop a circular economy. They may be integrated in all production phases and are based on concepts such as the 3Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle.
A number of current tools and strategies may be coherently integrated into a CE from which five are presented here. The functional economy is based on selling performance or service rather than products themselves, often in economic sectors in which the products were previously available. The sharing or collaborative economy relies on new ways of organizing work and exchanges according to the principle of shared access to goods. It is generally driven by a digital platform that enables consumers and producers to have a direct contact and interchange their roles based on the products and services offered. Remanufacturing, reconditioning and repair are strategies that involve the restoration of products or product components that allow the product life extension. Industrial symbiosis brings together businesses in a same industrial area in which one organization's waste becomes another's input material. More widely known, recycling includes a series of operations to process recovered recyclable materials in an effort to reintroduce them into a new production cycle.
CE also integrates tools: material flow quantification and impact assessment methods and other means that are more focused on product development processes. In the first case, input-output analysis makes it possible to quantify the material flows on a given territory, while life cycle assessment (LCA) considers the environmental, social, cost and potential impact aspects of a product, service or process throughout its entire life cycle. In the second case, ecodesign accounts for environmental aspects as early as the product design phase and aims to reduce the negative impacts during the product's life cycle. Finally, reverse logistics (reverse supply chain) seeks to manage and optimize the flows from consumers to intermediates throughout the value chain back to the manufacturer.
The potential impacts of a CE remain relatively unknown. The vast majority of the studies that were reviewed highlight the potential economic and environmental benefits of CE.
The environmental impacts of CE include the reduction of the environmental impact generated by human activity. Studies on the topic have especially focused on greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, specifically through waste management. Generally, they have shown that GHG emissions decrease by several percentage points according to the studied scenarios. The optimization of the use of primary and secondary resources may also reduce water, energy and fertilizer use and curb the need to extract raw materials.
Economic impact studies mainly tackle the impacts of CE on employment and economic activity. Most show that a CE can lead to GDP growth and job creation, which would compensate for losses in more traditional sectors. In addition, wasting fewer resources and adopting new consumption patterns could lead to savings for individuals and businesses.
However, while increased resource efficiency in a CE generates GDP growth, this growth can lead to a rebound effect which takes place when material efficiency gains are offset because they lead to greater consumption and environmental impacts.
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- EDDEC, « Économie circulaire », Institut EDDEC. [En ligne]. Disponible à: http://instituteddec.org/themes/economie-circulaire/. [Consulté le: 08-sept-2017].