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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Gregson, N., Crang, M., Fuller, S. & Holmes, H. Interrogating the Circular Economy: the Moral Economy of Resource Recovery in the EU. Economy and Society. 2015;44:218-243.

Author(s) from Durham


The concept of the circular economy has gained increasing prominence in academic, practitioner and policy circles and is linked to greening economies and sustainable development. However, the idea is more often celebrated than critically interrogated. Analysis shows the concept circulates as an idea and ideal, exemplified by industrial symbiosis and extended product life. Yet, its actual enactment is limited and fragile. Instead, circular economies are achieved mostly through global recycling networks which are the primary means by which wastes are recovered as resources. European policies eschew these circuits. Resource recovery through global recycling networks is regarded as a dirty and illegal trade. In its place, EU circular economies attempt to transform wastes to resources within the boundaries of the EU. Through an analysis of two case studies of resource recovery in the UK, we highlight the challenges that confront making circular economies within the EU, showing that these are borne of a conjuncture of politically created markets, material properties and morally defined materials circuits. We show resource recovery in the EU to be framed by moral economies, driven by discourses of ecological modernisation, environmental justice and resource (in)security, the last of which connects to China’s resource-intensive development.

Department of Geography