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Barriers to the Circular Economy in Australia and the European Union (EU): A comparative mixed methods review

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journal contribution
posted on 28.01.2021, 05:36 by Stefan KaufmanStefan Kaufman, Julian Kirchherr, Jim CurtisJim Curtis, Jenni Downes, Alexander SaeriAlexander Saeri, Peter Slattery, Brea KunstlerBrea Kunstler, Abby Wild
After the disruptions to international flows of low-grade recycling in 2018, jurisdictions like Australia are placing increased priority on transitioning to a more sustainable, circular economy (CE). In other jurisdictions, like the EU, CE has been a sustained focus for decades. However, even with this substantial body of evidence and practice, little is known about how barriers to CE vary across contexts, particularly at the level of business firm uptake of CE practices. We don’t know if the current state of knowledge translates well to the Australian context. This paper analyses evidence from the EU and Australia to assess similarities and differences in the EU and Australian experience of barriers, particularly those which apply to business, with a view to identifying priorities for behavioural public policy interventions. We progressively contextualise results from Australia – including interviews with policymakers and NGOs, and a rapid ‘review of reviews’; with research from Europe examining implementation barriers to CE. We found common immediate barriers of organisational hesitancy, uncertain consumer demand, collaboration, and linear value chains, which were superficially similar in both contexts. However, barriers in technology and regulation influenced business in Australia and the EU differently. This we attribute partly to a fundamental difference of emphasis in Australia that we summarise as waste and recycling as ‘industry’; versus a possible change to it being an ‘essential service’. We present what are likely to be fruitful areas for behavioural public policy experiments trials in Australia to facilitate business adoption of CE practices. This paper provides further insight to policymakers and researchers in both contexts interested in changing business practices towards a more circular economy, and build an international evidence-informed dialogue, grounded in specific contexts.


This paper draws on research funded by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment; the Victorian Government (Australia) Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning; Sustainability Victoria; Environment Protection Authority Victoria; and the New South Wales Government (Australia) Environment Protection Authority and Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.