Criticality and the Circular Economy

International Round Table on Materials Criticality

EcoBalance Tokyo, 9 October 2018

The second Round Table on Criticality was held in Tokyo on October 9, 2018 at the biennial EcoBalance conference. It presented a nexus of ideas on how innovation can be promoted by thinking in life cycles, and discussed if and how criticality and circular economy concepts match.

In the morning of October 9, a variety of presentations were introduced criticality and life cycle concepts from different perspectives and countries such as Japan, Korea and China. The afternoon was dedicated to the Round Table discussion on Criticality and Circular Economy. It discussed how these concepts match and further developed the first results on approaches on Criticality as elaborated at the first Round Table in Vancouver.

Its key outcomes were as follows:

  • The Circular Economy can be seen as a strategy to mitigate supply risks of critical raw materials: by increased recycling, reuse, reduction, etc. There are also other mechanisms how the two concepts interact: criticality can e.g. inform the Circular Economy on priority raw materials.
  • Both CE and criticality do not follow a single definition with a single set of indicators. Both concepts could have a purely economic interpretation, while environmental and social perspectives could be considered relevant as well. Depending on the indicator selection, CE and criticality can have diverging goals.
  • A transition towards circularity could reduce the criticality for some materials (by using less, recycling more) but also increase it (by increasing demand for new technologies). The overall effects of these mechanisms depend on future scenarios.
  • Thus, although the two concepts differ in many regards, common goals and tools can be identified. The potential and limitations of mutual reinforcement should be investigated in more detail, with the necessary care and awareness of the methodological differences.