International Correspondents

An introduction to circular economy in Scandinavia

The concept of a circular economy – an economy of reuse, remanufacturing and recycling of products – has a strong stand in Scandinavia: Denmark recently got the top award in the city/country/region category of the new Circular Economy Awards, run by the World Economic Forum’s Forum of Young Global Leaders. Denmark and Sweden both find themselves of a list of top 5 most advanced countries for the circular economy, alongside Japan, Scotland and the Netherlands.

That said, there is variation within the Scandinavian countries in the progress towards a circular economy. You might have noticed that Norway did not join its neighbours on the list of top circular countries. Being Norwegian, I’m curious to explore in this blog series why this is the case, and perhaps contribute to spurring the debate on the issue there are well.

Perhaps part of the reason for the apparent disparity in progress that is reported in the media on the circular economy between Denmark, Sweden and Norway is due to differences in the use of the term “circular economy” itself. I’ve found that while this is widely used in Denmark and to a certain extent in Sweden, the term is only just gaining foothold in Norway.

Licence CC Credit Flickr user: Dino Abatzidis
Licence CC Credit Flickr user: Dino Abatzidis

The fact that Scandinavia is reported to be leading on the circular economy fits well with my personal experience, particularly related to recycling practices. I grew up in Oslo and spent the summer months every year in a small town on the Swedish coast, and I remember that we always recycled – empty milk cartons were cleaned, folded and recycled, both in school and at home. It was just second nature to us growing up; I don’t remember it being a conscious effort, it was just the way things were done. During the summers in Sweden though we were even further incentivized by the local government to recycle, as the rubbish would only be collected every other week. Recycling stations were also widely available, making it easy to recycle at a very granular level, more so than at home in Oslo – for example, newspapers and cardboard were split in different bins.

Since, I have also lived for longer or shorter periods in the US, Argentina and the UK, and my impression is that recycling in all these countries is much less prevalent than in Norway and Sweden.

For those familiar with the concept and benefits of a circular economy, they’ll know that recycling is not really what the circular economy is all about – it’s only a small part of it. Recycling has smaller potential for environmental and economic benefits than reuse and remanufacturing. Nevertheless, I think it serves as a useful indicator. And more importantly, I think that recycling can have an important indirect effect on establishing other circular economy practices and instill environmental concerns in the population; arguably a first step to moving to other, more intricate, aspects of a circular economy.

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The Author

Beate Sonerud

Beate Sonerud

Beate works as policy analyst at the Climate Bonds Initiative, a London-based NGO working to mobilise the debt capital markets for climate change investments. She is responsible for undertaking public policy related research projects, as well as contributing to the blog. She has previously worked in Climate Change Research at HSBC, and at the low-carbon consultancy Xyntéo.

Beate completed an MSc with distinction in Environmental Technology at Imperial College London, and holds a first-class BSc in Economics and International Development from the University of Bath. She is originally from Norway, but has lived in the UK since 2009. She is a fellow of the Schmidt-MacArthur fellowship on the circular economy, and writes a blog about sustainable business and finance.

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