The European Map of Circular Economy

European Countries are unique. Each of them with a characterful history, culture, and sociopolitical structure, that form the distinctive features of their current identity. This fascinating one-of-a kind diversity acts as a backdrop in the circular economy scenario, and all the actors find themselves in different places, and thus performing different roles.

The key understanding of why a transition from linear to circular economy differs between the European Union’s member states derives from their unique character, resulting from historical, cultural, economic and political circumnstances that reflect the peculiarity of each member state.

As we know, some member states seem to hold a pioneering role in the transition process towards a circular economy, thus being the frontrunners of this disruptive change. This can be seen as a natural condition explaining why the pace of the transition turns out to be faster in certain geographical areas than others.

The problem and the solution lie simultaneously in knowledge accessibility and work progress, and in the way these are differently distributed across the whole European area. That is to say that some countries are equipped with the necessary skills, professional expertise and knowledge that enable them to be straight at the front of the new circular paradigm.

Against this background, a required action is needed to benefit from the existence of such knowledge, regardless of where it can be located.

How to make the most of this situation? Sharing. Something that we are all learning to do, to give the world a more circular shape. If successful methods and models are shared and made easily available, we are one step closer to avoiding the risk of an uneven transition. The geography-based distribution of skills and knowledge should rather be used as a model example, as a tool to pass on to others, which, in turn, will transfer it to other performing actors, thus creating a positive domino effect throughout the whole Europe.

Tips to make it happen: a 2019 report from Ecopreneur highlights positive and negative effects of different progress being made in EU’s member states and outlines some recommendations orbiting around the need to increase the demand for circular products and establish strategies for joint initiatives aimed at fostering circular economy in each country. These suggestions will be soon illustrated and summarised in a dedicated publication that will be issued by Veltha in the next few days.

ZOOMING IN ON THE EUROPEAN MAP: What happens at the level of cities, towns and rural areas?

Cities are given a great deal of pressure when it comes to fostering the circular transition process. This is because most of the world’s population lives in urban areas and 85% of global GDP is generated in urban contexts (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017). A 2014 UN Report estimates that over 66% of world population would live in urban centers by 2050. If put together with the increasing global birth rates, this will immediately translate in a high waste generation, quantified to be 2.2 billion tons by 2025 (World Bank, 2012).

And this is not even the whole picture. Besides being the cradle for most of the global population, cities are also responsible for approximately 60-80% of greenhouse gas emissions (World Bank, 2017). Being the main hubs for the economic activity, and being responsible for the presence of effective infrastructure in charge of providing regenerative cycle of materials in closed loops to the detriment of the linear model of consumption, cities are meant to be necessarily the pioneers of this groundbreaking transition.

Rural areas are also playing a significant role affecting the current production system.

Particularly, there is a threatening fate that is looming on them. First of all, their long-term sustainability is currently in danger as they are being subject to multiple pathways: some areas are being abandoned, others are suffering from the intensification of production and soil exploitation and some others are being swept away by the technological progress performed by the more advanced ones in better material and geographical conditions. 

That is when Circular Economy comes into play. Through the implementation of new circular models, it would be possible to foster a development that will witness the transformation of production and consumption patterns thanks to the introduction of innovative regenerative methods that will minimize their environmental impact. Alternatively, the under-exploitation of resources in the current development model can be an important starting point for their reintroduction in valorization chains through endogenous assets and a widely efficient network promoting sustainable development in rural and urban contexts.

The principle of resource circulation can serve as a standard framework to build new policy instruments that support innovative forms of development that will finally close the loop for the new identity of the economic system.


Kirchherr, J., Piscicelli, L., Bour, R., Kostense-Smit, E., Muller, J., Huibrechtse-Truijens, A., & Hekkert, M. (2018). Barriers to the circular economy: evidence from the European Union (EU). Ecological Economics, 150, 264-272.

Sijtsema, S., Snoek, H., Van Haaster-de Winter, M., Dagevos, H. 2019. Let’s Talk about Circular Economy: A Qualative Exploration of Consumer Perceptions. Wageningen Economic Research, Wageningen University., 2019. European Sustainable Business Federation. Final Report, Circular Economy Update. Overview of Circular Economy in Europe. Retrieved from

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