New special issue invites radical views to spark a sustainable circular economy

Not all circular practices that are implemented turn out to be sustainable. This special invites contributions from authors from public, private, civil and academic backgrounds to answer the question: What is a sustainable circular economy?

Circular economy promises to support sustainable development by making better use of resources; minimising natural resource extraction and the generation of wastes, and optimising the environmental, social, technical and environmental value of resources throughout the lifecycle of materials and products (Velenturf et al. 2019). In response to a world where resource scarcity and price volatility, on-going environmental degradation and growing social inequality are becoming pressing issues, circular economy has gained momentum among governments, businesses and communities around the globe (Purnell et al. 2019).

But many unsustainable practices are being presented as ‘circular’ owing to a lack of clarity and rigour in presenting what sustainable circularity actually means. Is a circular economy, for example, an economy within which loops of material flows are ‘closed’ primarily with the help of energy-from-waste? Is it a society where overconsumption is the norm? A continuation of the technocentric and economic growth addicted discourse? Circular economy has entered a critical phase within which it either strengthens its sustainability credentials, or risks becoming the next throwaway concept (Velenturf and Purnell, in preparation).

Taking circular economy to the next sustainability level will require radical new perspectives. The special issue asks for your critiques to unpack circular economy concepts and build them back up with sustainability in mind. Arguments could be entirely theoretical, based on logical thinking. Practical examples explaining why a circular practice is or is not sustainable are also welcome. Such examples will have to go well beyond lifecycle assessments. Papers should explain how circular economy can contribute to sustainable development at a whole-system level i.e. delivering social and environmental net-gains simultaneously with maintaining or enhancing economic prosperity for current and future generations.

Realising transformative change is not easy, and to keep up motivation we must have collective visions for a better society that we can aspire to. Why should we implement a sustainable circular economy? What wonderful things might happen if we did? What should a sustainable circular society look like? What are the important aspects that should become reality, what do you value most and why? This special issue therefore asks for your circular economy dreams.

To take circular economy forward we must think out of the box. Therefore this special issue invites your radical ideas that could strengthen the sustainability credentials of circular economy. Entirely original ideas are welcome, but the special issue is also open to borrowing ideas from other disciplines and communities that could add value to the sustainability potential of circular economy. Are there any subject areas and societal, cultural and political beliefs, trends and philosophies that circular economy could learn from?

The special issue guest editors, Prof Phil Purnell and Dr Anne Velenturf at the University of Leeds, aim to bring all contributions together to continue to shape a shared vision for a sustainable circular economy. This shared vision will build upon the academic, government and industry perspectives brought together in the Resource Recovery from Waste programme, which can be found on the publications page. An agenda for transformative research and implementation of the vision will also be articulated.

Contributions to the special issue titled “Visions, Values and Principles for a Sustainable Circular Economy” are invited by 31 March 2021.

Article proposals ahead of publication are welcomed. Please feel free to contact the guest editors with a title and short abstract (ca 100 words). Please visit the special issue webpage for further detail.


  1. Velenturf, A.P.M., Archer, S.A., Gomes, H., Christgen, B., Lag-Brotons, A.J., Purnell, P. (2019) Circular Economy and the Matter of Integrated Resources. Science of The Total Environment, Vol. 689: 963-969.
  2. Purnell, P., Velenturf, A.P.M., Marshall, R. (2019) 16. New governance for the circular economy: the policy, regulation and market context for resource recovery from waste. In: Resource Recovery from Waste: Towards a Global Circular Economy, edited by L. Macaskie, D. Sapsford, W. Mayes, Royal Society of Chemistry.
  3. Velenturf, A.P.M., Purnell, P. (in preparation) Principles of a Sustainable Circular Economy.

Feature image (top) by annca from Pixabay

Written by A Velenturf

Programme Co-ordination for the Resource Recovery from Waste Programme