10 Circular Economy Trends To Look Out For in 2024, Reshaping Production and Consumption

The buzzword for 2024 is “circular economy.” What’s that, you ask? Here we decode it for you… 
As the world hurtles towards 2024, a paradigm shift is emerging in the global economy. Gone are the days of the linear ‘take-make-dispose’ model; the future lies in the circular economy. This model promises not just environmental sustainability, but also an innovative economic system that redefines consumption and recycling. Here’s a glimpse into the top ten circular economy trends that are set to reshape our world in 2024.


Here’s a glimpse into the top ten circular economy trends that are set to reshape our world in 2024: 

1. Waste-To-Resource: Transforming Trash Into Treasure

In 2024, what was once ‘waste’ becomes a valuable resource. Companies across the globe are turning trash into new products, from fashion to construction materials. This approach not only reduces landfill waste but also cuts down on the need for new resources, creating a closed-loop system.

2. The Power of Reuse and Re-purpose: Breathing New Life into Products

Reuse and re-purpose are no longer just a trend; it’s a lifestyle. Upcycling transforms waste or unwanted items into higher-quality, valuable products. Common materials for upcycling include cardboard, glass, plastic, metal, wood, paper, fabric, and rubber. This creative process not only turns waste into resources but also unleashes your creativity. Consider these reuse, re-purpose and upcycling ideas:
  • Old rubber tires can be painted and repurposed as planters or refurbished into furniture bases with yarn and ropes.
  • Transform old jeans into stylish tote or sling bags.
  • Braid old clothes or plastic sheets into vibrant rugs, or use old fabric for cushion covers.
  • Get creative with old CDs and plastic bottles to craft unique chimes and chandeliers.
  • Repurpose broken furniture pieces into new frames, planters, or headboards.
  • Support eco-conscious fashion by purchasing upcycled clothing from designers.
Explore the plethora of DIY upcycling ideas online for more inspiration!

3. Internet of Waste: A Digital Revolution in Waste Management

Waste segregation plays a crucial role in diverting recyclables from landfills, thereby reducing landfill waste and reintroducing valuable materials into the production cycle. This process supports the principles of a circular economy, giving discarded items a new lease on life. Consequently, innovative startups are creating “Internet of Waste”-based bins designed to efficiently separate recyclables from landfill-bound waste.

4. Product-As-Services

The product-as-a-service model offers a unique way to prolong the lifespan of products. In this model, businesses maintain ownership of their products, while consumers pay for their usage. Advances in data and tracing technologies have enhanced the flow of information, making this business model more viable. 

5. Bio-based Materials: Nature’s Answer to Sustainability

Bio-based materials are the stars of 2024. In a truly circular society, material consumption evolves into a cyclical process where renewable resources and waste streams fuel the creation of new bio-based materials. In this system, bio-based materials are not only used but also consistently reused, repaired, recycled, and remanufactured. The choices concerning resources in a circular society must extend beyond mere material selection. Every decision in the product life cycle, including those concerning circularity, should be grounded in a balanced consideration of technological feasibility, environmental impact, and economic viability.

6. Remanufacture: Old Becomes New Again

Remanufacturing is revolutionizing production. Companies are taking old products, refurbishing them, and reintroducing them to the market. This not only reduces waste but also conserves the energy and materials used in making new products.
Remanufacturing is a meticulous industrial process that revitalizes previously sold, worn, or non-functional products or components to a condition that is as good as, or better than, new. This process is distinct from mere recycling or repairing and includes a warranty guaranteeing a certain level of performance and quality. Despite its advantages, a general lack of awareness among dealers, customers, and policymakers hinders the growth of the remanufacturing industry.
Key benefits of remanufacturing include:
  • Conservation of materials, increasingly vital as raw materials grow scarce and costly.
  • Reduced energy consumption in manufacturing processes.
  • Decreased waste generation and associated disposal costs.
  • Offering products at lower prices while maintaining quality.
Commonly remanufactured product categories encompass:
  • Aircraft components.
  • Automotive parts.
  • Electrical and electronic equipment.
  • Engines and their components.
  • Medical equipment.
  • Office furniture.
  • Printing equipment.
  • Restaurant and food-service equipment.
Remanufacturing is a crucial element of a resource-efficient manufacturing industry. By extending the lifespan of components and their embodied materials, it significantly curtails energy use and reduces CO2 emissions. Moreover, remanufacturing contributes to better resource management, the creation of skilled jobs, and economic growth.

7. Blockchain for Transparency

Blockchain technology is increasingly pivotal in the circular economy, particularly for tracking materials and components throughout the supply chain. This allows for their effective reuse, remanufacturing, and eventual recycling or composting. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has noted blockchain’s potential in contributing to the regeneration of natural systems. For instance, water and waste management company Suez utilizes blockchain to meticulously document each step in the process of transferring sludge from wastewater treatment to agricultural applications.
Primarily, blockchain’s role in the circular economy has been focused on tracking non-biological materials. When integrated with GPS systems or Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, blockchain enables products to carry a continuously updated information trail. This digital ledger provides each stakeholder in the supply chain with the data needed to make well-informed decisions regarding material management.

8. Repair: Embracing the Fix-it Culture

The repair movement is growing stronger in 2024.  In circular economy discourse, repair is often framed merely as one stage in a product’s lifecycle. However, it’s more accurately viewed as a systemic attribute, encompassing ongoing maintenance and the mending of items in use. This perspective broadens the concept of repair beyond simply restoring a product to its original state. It involves fostering a deeper attachment to our belongings, thereby extending their lifespan. More than just fixing, repair also embodies the principle of giving back. Its ability to rejuvenate prevents waste, and through the process of repairing, we gain insights into how to reconfigure, redesign, and innovate products that are currently unsustainable.

9. Resource Recovery 

Resource recovery, encompassing recycling and ‘reverse logistics’ across the product lifecycle, offers a financial incentive to maximize economic value within a waste hierarchy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation reveals a significant opportunity for improvement, noting that only 5% of the material value of produced goods is currently reclaimed. Governments, particularly in Europe, are taking action to reduce waste. In 2019, municipal waste recycling (accounting for 40% of all waste) stood at 47%, with targets set at 60% by 2025 and 65% by 2030. Additionally, there’s a goal to slash landfill use to below 10% by 2035, down from 24% in 2019. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulation, which holds producers accountable for the environmental impacts of their products at waste stage, has been a significant catalyst.
Over 400 EPR systems are in operation globally, mostly covering electronics, packaging, tyres, and batteries. While 87% of cars in Europe were recycled in 2018, electronic equipment recycling lagged behind at less than 50% (source: Eurostat). Economic factors are also propelling recycling forward. The surge in commodity prices in 2021 — with steel increasing by approximately 40%, copper by about 20%, and PET plastics by roughly 20% — highlights the growing incentive to recycle. Moreover, recycled materials are poised to become premium-priced products as legislative content requirements and corporate recycling targets increase demand for recycled inputs.

10. Material Efficiency 

Material efficiency, the practice of creating products with minimal materials, has long been integral to firms adopting lean operating models aimed at reducing production waste. However, recent advancements in artificial intelligence and cutting-edge technology have opened new doors for enhancing material efficiency, presenting a wealth of untapped opportunities.