A policy framework for the circular economy: Lessons from the EU

Kris Hartley, Steffen Schülzchen, Conny A. Bakker, Julian Kirchherr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Transitioning from the ‘take-make-dispose’ linear production system to a circular economy can strengthen sustainability, and governments play a vital role. Recent scholarship has investigated policies for circular economy transition, but few studies take a perspective on circularity reform that spans geographies, industries, and product life-cycle stages. This article fills that gap by introducing a policy framework for the circular economy that includes over 100 policy instruments. The framework is developed from a review of 572 studies published in the academic and grey literature, along with policy databases and other documents. The findings are validated and supplemented by data from 33 semi-structured interviews with circular economy experts including scholars, policymakers, and representatives from NGOs and businesses. Derived primarily from the EU context but broadly applicable, the framework categorizes circular economy policies into nine groups. Six groups correspond to stages of the product life-cycle and three are overarching, capturing a holistic perspective mostly lacking in the literature. This study aims to promote a more structured discussion about circular economy policies and provides directions for future research by identifying topics where scholarship is thin. In addition to advancing theory, the framework can also serve as an assessment lens for designing circular economy policies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number137176
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project https://www.openaccess.nl/en/you-share-we-take-care Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • Circular economy
  • Industrial ecology
  • Public policy
  • Regulation
  • Resource efficiency
  • Sustainability transition


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