Measuring product circularity (Re:Source)

Together with 20 companies and several industry associations and governmental agencies RISE Viktoria and IVL examine a novel way to measure product circularity and how it relates to established sustainability indicators. The project started in August 2017 and finishes in June 2018.

The circular economy (CE) has been put forward as a means to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation. There is no standard means to compare the circularity of manufactured products. In this project we aim to validate an indicator that currently exists as a prototype and focuses exclusively on product-level circularity. We adopt a collaborative action-research with around 20 private and public sector organisations that can assist in the refinement of a robust, legitimate and standardisable circularity indicator that can act as a fundamental lynchpin for the transition to a CE in manufacturing industries, both in Sweden and beyond. 

The circularity metric used is presented in this open access paper:
Linder, M., Sarasini, S. and van Loon, P. (2017), A Metric for Quantifying Product-Level Circularity. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 21: 545–558. doi:10.1111/jiec.12552

The metric is based on estimating the ratio of a product that has cycled from previous products (e.g. recycling or remanufacturing). A core idea is that the economic value of a product part is a reasonable estimate of how much of the product that part constitutes. In other words that reusing an electric motor is better than recycling the wrapping and pallet used to transport the engine. So instead of counting kilograms, which does not reward component-level reuse nor recycling of rare materials used only in small volumes, the metric increases the relative “weight” of parts that are either scarce or in large demand. This creates consistent continuum of different types of cycles, eliminating the need to treat e.g. recycling and remanufacturing cycles separately or judgement calls regarding the what type of cycle a certain company or plant employs. This also means that much of the relevant data required to calculate the metric is already available from existing accounting systems. It also reduces the need for uncertain judgement calls such as estimating intensity of use or expected life span for new products on rapidly changing markets.

We expect the metric to be useful to companies positioning their products as contributing the the circular economy, to procurers interested in a clear cut and well-defined way to purchase circular products or set increasing demands on circularity, and possibly to governmental bodies interested in measuring or regulating industry moves towards a circular economy.

The project is closely related to the projects Business circularity for increased resource efficiency and Potential product circularity.

The project is financed by Re:Source.