Circular economy at risk? During the last 6 years the world consumed half a trillion tonnes of materials- almost as much as the entirety of the 20th century

Despite becoming a ‘megatrend’ global circularity continues to decline. The latest Circularity Gap report calls for policy action by governments, noting that while discussion and debate on circularity has almost tripled over the past 5 years, global progress itself has declined.
February 8, 2024

Discussion and awareness of the circular economy growing, but action is lacking

“The circular economy is gaining popularity but falling short on action”[i]- that is the headline finding from the most recent circularity gap report. The annual research found that despite the circular economy entering the mainstream (and now being viewed as a ‘megatrend’) global progress on circularity continues to decline.

The study, conducted by Circle Economy in partnership with Deloitte, found that the volume of discussion, debate and articles around the circular economy has almost tripled over the past five years. However, during the same timeframe the share of secondary materials consumed by the global economy has decreased from 9.1% in 2018 to 7.2% in 2023, increasing the ‘circularity gap’ as the use of virgin materials rises. In fact, "In just the past six years alone we have consumed over half a trillion tonnes of materials — nearly as much as the entirety of the 20th century,"[ii] the report claims.

Change required by governments and industry sectors

Circle Economy reveals that by making changes within 3 key industries- the food, built environment, and manufacturing sectors, the volume of raw materials consumed could be reduced by as much as a third. The report notes that the linear economy has broken six critical "planetary boundaries": high rates of greenhouse gases; the acidification of the oceans; pollution by nitrogen compounds; phosphorus emissions; atmospheric aerosol releases; and freshwater and land use.

Report author and researcher at the Circle Economy Foundation, Álvaro Conde Soria, told GreenBiz:

"Tackling the numerous crises we face will require a fundamental shift in economics: We must go from linear to circular to shape an economic system that operates within planetary boundaries."[iii]

To do so, the researchers suggest policies that reward circular practices, as well as training to provide workers with the necessary skills to meet the green transition:

Create a level policy playing field: Set the ‘rules of the game’ through policies and legal frameworks that incentivise sustainable and circular practices while penalising harmful ones, thereby shaping the nature and scale of economic activities across industries and nations.

Get the economics right: Adjust fiscal policies and leverage public investment to create true prices and ensure that circular solutions become more valuable instruments and begin to replace linear norms.

Build circular expertise and skills: Ensure people are skilled and trained to ensure a just transition where opportunities and decent livelihoods are fairly distributed across and within societies”[iv].

What is the circular economy?

The concept of a ‘circular economy’ is a response to the challenges and issues relating to our ‘take-make-dispose’ approach to production and consumption. The circular economy seeks to eliminate waste - instead focussing on reusing and recirculating materials to preserve both the environment and natural resources. According to the WEF It is believed that this could yield up to $4.5 trillion in economic benefits to 2030[v]. You can find out more about the circular economy and how it can be incorporated into daily life here.

In terms of skilling the workforce and the challenges this will bring, ZCA recently launched our in-depth report “The emerging green skills gap & Gen Z attitudes” which delves into the current trends and opportunities for each major industry, as well as analysis of legislation and policy on a county-level basis[vi].

Alongside granular 5-year market forecasts for leading economies and industry sectors, within the research report we answer the following questions:

1.            How is the green transition going to impact industries on a global, regional and national level?

2.            What legislative mechanisms are playing a part in the development of green skills around the globe?

3.            What is the current state of the green skills gap and how will it change in the next five years?

4.            What role does young green talent have in bridging the green skills gap and why do their unique attributes make them able to fulfil this role?

5.            How can an organisation attract and retain young green talent?


Download the free whitepaper here:  Mind the gap: Why Gen Z talent is crucial in addressing the looming green skills shortfall.


[i] CGR 2024 (

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Follow these 4 tactics to close the world's circularity gap, report says | GreenBiz

[iv] CGR 2024 (

[v] Surging Popularity of Rental & Reselling Sites Fuels Hope for a Circular Economy (

[vi] The emerging green skills gap & Gen Z attitudes (

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Lauren Foye
Head of Reports

Lauren has extensive experience as an analyst and market researcher in the digital technology and travel sectors. She has a background in researching and forecasting emerging technologies, with a particular passion for the Videogames and eSports industries. She joined the Critical Information Group as Head of Reports and Market Research at GRC World Forums, and leads the content and data research team at the Zero Carbon Academy. “What drew me to the academy is the opportunity to add content and commentary around sustainability across a wealth of industries and sectors.”

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