Measuring Circularity: an opportunity for countries and cities around the world

Published on Thursday, 10 March 2022

As stated in this newsletter's last edition, according to Circle Economy, the world was only 8.6% circular in 2021, as one of the proposed indicators to measure the progress of the circular economy.

Establishing coordinated metrics is fundamental and poses the challenge of finding a common language for decision-makers generating coherent, understandable, and widely accepted indicators among different stakeholders.

Generally, measuring circularity requires knowing the flow of material, energy, and waste that move within the analyzed system, and with them construct indicators expressed in absolute terms, in percentage, per capita, etc. We determine three levels based on the degree of detail required: macro, meso, and micro. At the macro level, we can generate indicators that describe the performance of a nation or macro-region as a whole, for example, the natural resource needs of its economy. The latter is particularly useful for governments in supporting long-term sustainability strategies, waste management policies, and resource conservation. Going down to the meso level, we can measure the decoupling of a specific productive sector by analyzing its material flows and drawing up action plans to, for example, encourage the exchange of resources between industries. Finally, a detailed study is made of each resource needed for a process or product at the micro-level. As a result, we develop focused strategies, such as reducing reliance on specific critical resources or fossil fuels.

Data availability remains a challenge to measure circularity in detail. Historically, much emphasis has been placed on monitoring waste and recovery rates. In contrast, the flow of raw materials and energy in production chains has not received the same level of attention. Despite this, many countries and cities have collected available data and transformed it into valuable indicators. Let us look at some examples:

At the European level, the European Commission introduced the EU Resource Efficiency Scoreboard in 2013, establishing 32 indicators to monitor the efficiency with which member countries consume their resources. The primary indicator is resource productivity, measured as Gross Domestic Product over domestic consumption of raw materials, which concisely indicates a country's capacity to generate value per unit of material extracted from the planet. Eurostat reports, for example, an EU resource productivity of around €2.22/kg for 2019.

In 2016, the Raw Materials Scoreboard raised the idea of expanding knowledge around raw materials, providing a powerful tool to the industry for economic decoupling and identifying circular transition opportunities.

Some of the indicators published in the 2017 report stated that only 12% of raw materials came from internal recirculation and that the recovery rate of construction waste reached 86.5%.