On June 18-19, 2018, the Centre for Circular Economy at the University of Exeter Business School, UK, with support from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, hosted an international academic symposium on “Circular economy disruptions – past, present and future.” About 100 participants from different research fields, including business as well as natural, political, and social sciences, gathered to discuss circular economy research, practice, challenges, and innovation in several parallel sessions and panels.

Andrew Morlet of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation opened the event by outlining the foundation’s aim to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. He also presented the foundation’s systemic initiatives including the New Plastics Economy (FPF reported). On the example of plastic packaging, Morlet stressed that the transition to circular practice cannot be achieved solely by policy but has to be driven by industry: Companies’ efforts will impact supply chains and billions of consumers.

Ecodesign was one of the topics highlighted during the first day of the parallel sessions. Rosalind Malcolm of the University of Surrey, UK, pointed out that current regulatory approaches in the EU mainly control production processes and not products. However, to achieve a closed-loop circular regulatory framework, a whole-life approach for products is needed. Malcolm outlined how the concept of ecodesign, as set out in the EU Ecodesign Directive for energy-using products, could be extended to and implemented for all types of products. Such a legislation should include aspects like longevity, circularity, lifetime, and quality of life and could be implemented retroactively, similar to the EU Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). She further mentioned the 2016 European Parliament (EP) report on “A longer lifetime for products: Benefits for consumers and companies” and suggested that regulatory controls need to impact products at the design stage to prevent waste.

During the second day of the parallel sessions, Frank George from the World Health Organization (WHO) Europe informed about a new WHO report on the circular economy and its opportunities and risks for human health. The report will be launched in the coming weeks and explores how circular economy actions such as recycling and ecodesign impact human health. Exposure to chemicals of concern such as bisphenol A (BPA, CAS 80-05-7), phthalates, and brominated flame retardants in products, and in particular in food packaging, is one of the issues covered by the report. Further, the report discusses vulnerable populations, such as children, pregnant women, adolescents, or elderly, that are most affected by potential risks.

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University of Exeter Business School (2018). “Circular economy disruptions – past, present and future.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation (June 18, 2018). “University of Exeter hosts first international academic symposium on the circular economy.

EP (June 9, 2017). “Report on a longer lifetime for products: Benefits for consumers and companies (2016/2272(INI)).

WHO Europe (October 9, 2017). “Circular economy meets environment and health – opportunities and risks.