9 Disadvantages of Circular Economy Explained

Disadvantages of circular economy are; low feasibility, technical limitations, lack of diversity, knowledge and skills requirement, low product quality, long-term sustainability issues, regulatory challenges, inefficient modelling, and lack of infrastructure.

This article discusses the disadvantages of circular economy, as follows;


1). Low Feasibility

While the concept and model of circular economy are ideal for the advancement of society, there are questions as to how feasible they are. The fact that the concept is still an idealization, is one of the greatest disadvantages of circular economy.

Reasons why circular economy might not be feasible include lack of clarity, economic and environmental dynamics, consumer convenience, recycling requirements, renewable energy and cost of implementation.

-Lack of Clarity

Circular economy has various definitions in different contexts [8]. This is because the concept is highly adaptable and can be made to fit into different social, economic and environmental schemes.

However, this is a disadvantage because it reduces the effectiveness and clarity of circular economic practices.

In order for any practice to be implemented effectively, it must be well-known in definite, clear terms. For circular economy, this is not the case. In some scenarios, the focus of circular economy is innovation, while in others, it could be recycling, renewable energy, or environmental remediation.

Also, because there are multiple principles of circular economy, it is often unclear which aspect should be given priority.

-Economic and Environmental Dynamics

In real-life scenarios, it is difficult to achieve economic profitability without causing some form of environmental degradation [2].

This is because production depends on environmental resources, and results in waste.

Due to the idealized nature of circular economy, it is expected that environmental impacts will be reduced to the barest minimum. Although it is possible to reduce such impacts significantly, they cannot be eradicated completely as is sometimes suggested by the circular economic model.

What this means is that the circular economy is a concept that contradicts some essential dynamics between the economy and ecosystem. Soil conservation, water conservation and air quality conservation are all feasible, but not in the exact manner that is suggested by the circular economic model.

-Consumer Convenience

The circular economy works based on a ‘make-use-return’ (or ‘take-make-use’) model that seeks to reduce waste production [5].

For the consumer, this has various implications. They include the use of recycled products that may be of poor quality, and challenges in the disposal of used products due to recycling-based environmental policies.

Because economic growth depends on the dynamics of supply and demand [12], low consumer satisfaction can lead to economic setbacks.

-Recycling Requirements

Recycling is suitable for many materials and products. For example, biodegradable plastics are made from organic materials, and can be recycled through any of various biomass conversion methods [10].

Other used materials can be used to produce energy through waste-to-energy conversion, by anaerobic digestion, fermentation, incineration, hydrolysis and pyrolysis.

In agriculture, livestock waste, plant residue and other types of biomass can be recycled by composting, and can be used as organic fertilizer.

However, recycling is not always effective or feasible. Some products and materials lose most of their value after use, and recycling such products will lead to economic losses.

Also, the equipment and labor needed in the recycling industry might be inadequate to meet the criteria for a circular economy.

-Renewable Energy

As part of resource conservation and sustainability, it is expected that non-renewable energy resources like fossil fuels and radioactive materials for nuclear energy, will be replaced by various types of renewable energy like geothermal, solar, bioenergy, wind, hydro, and wave power.

Such a scenario will replace the fossil fuel power plants and electric generators with geothermal turbines, solar panels, wind turbines, biorefineries, water dams and hydroelectricity systems, nuclear breeder reactors, and biofuel-driven cogeneration facilities.

Also, traditional methods of electricity generation will be replaced with the use of energy management systems to produce electricity from these renewable sources. Traditional electrical appliances and building units will be replaced by smart houses and appliances that operate with energy efficiency.

Under such conditions, sustainable development in the energy sector will be ensured, while climate change and global warming will be mitigated.

However, this is an idealization. In real-life scenarios, the development of renewable energy technologies and resources comes with challenges of capacity, reliability, cost, technical requirements and overall feasibility.

This means that a completely-renewable energy sector (one of the criteria for circular economy) is not feasible given the current state of technology and knowledge.

-Cost of Implementation

It is important to note that the circular economy is not instantaneously profitable as the linear economy.

Profitability depends on how resources are recycled in the long run.

Such a scenario suggests that the initial cost of implementing circular economic principles is high. There is also the risk of losses if recycling and reuse are not as effective as planned.


2). Technical Limitations (as Disadvantages of Circular Economy)

The principles of circular economy show that it is aimed at unifying human activities with natural processes and geochemical cycles [3].

There are technical barriers to achieving such an aim.

Manmade recycling technologies are less efficient at converting used materials than natural processes like biodegradation. Also, the environmental impacts of manufacturing and re-manufacturing are more significant than the impacts of natural energy production.

Because of these differences, the cycle of resource exploitation, manufacturing and reuse, cannot be aligned with the natural equilibrium of the environment given the current level of technological advancement in the economic sector.

Although innovation is an effective way to address some of these limitations, continuous technological changes, even when positive, can disrupt the stability and sustainability of the economy.

Disadvantages of Circular Economy: Technical Limitations (Credit: Nayeem Noor 2020 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Disadvantages of Circular Economy: Technical Limitations (Credit: Nayeem Noor 2020 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)


3). Lack of Diversity

Diversity is important for sustainability and productivity of any economy [9].

In natural ecosystems like forest ecosystem, grassland and tundra biome, diversity is also important to ensure continuous productivity.

However, the implementation of circular economic models and principles, does not allow for much diversification.

Rather, in order for a circular economy to be achieved, various sectors of the economy must be closely integrated and interlinked [13]. Such criteria do not help to increase economic resilience, independence and productivity.

Lack of diversity in circular economy arises because of the objective to control the lifecycle of products in all sectors of the economy. This objective gives manufacturers a narrow scope of options to choose from when selecting raw materials and designing products.  

Recycling and reuse as priorities can negatively affect production, because it is not always possible to produce specialized products of high quality, when we prioritize the need to recycle such products.

Also, while economic integration is good, an attempt to unify the lifecycle of products from all aspects of the economy, reduces the potential to diversify products and deliver high quality.  


4). Knowledge and Skills Requirement (as Disadvantages of Circular Economy)

Unlike the linear economy that functions based on a simplified sequence of ‘take, make and dispose,’ the circular economic model is more complex.

It includes schemes to recycle and regenerate products.

For the linear economy, a basic knowledge of raw materials and production is needed. On the other hand, broad knowledge of technical, biological and chemical factors is required for the circular economy to be effective [11].

This is due to the need for regeneration.

Raw materials must be used based on their peculiar biological and biochemical characteristics. Technologies for production must be developed and used based on their ability to preserve the physicochemical and biological attributes of materials. Product designs must be selected with due consideration of the need to recycle the product.

These requirements cannot be met without specialized, expert knowledge. This includes theoretical understanding and technical skills with respect to the manual, mechanized, analogue and digital aspects of production.

Also, in order for the circular economy to experience long-term growth and sustainability, innovation is essential [7]. This means that continuous learning and improvement are necessary.

Such requirements increase the difficulty of adopting a circular economic model of production, because of the difficulty of acquiring and continuously improving a broad base of knowledge and skills.  

Disadvantages of Circular Economy: Knowledge and Skills Requirement (Credit: Redaktion NdW 2019 .CC BY 2.0.)
Disadvantages of Circular Economy: Knowledge and Skills Requirement (Credit: Redaktion NdW 2019 .CC BY 2.0.)


5). Questionable Quality of Products

Because the circular economy lays emphasis on the ability to recycle and regenerate resources, this can reduce the concern with product quality.

In a linear economy, factors like low carbon tax, energy conservation, sustainable production and regenerative potential, are not given priority. This obviously has disadvantages. Yet, it means that priority is given to other factors like profitability and product quality.

It is not always possible to create durable, high-quality products that can be recycled. Rather, circular economies are more likely to create products that are cheap, high-volume, and easily accessible.

Such an approach to production is usable in sectors like fashion, but may not be suitable in the energy and technology sectors.

On the other hand, the effort to combine regenerative potential and high quality (in order to produce high-quality, renewable products) is associated with high economic cost and risk.


6). Long-term Sustainability Issues (as Disadvantages of Circular Economy)

The goal of circular economy is to achieve long-term sustainability in the economic sector.

Given some of the disadvantages of circular economy, the chances of achieving this goal can be debated.

One of the reasons is because the circular economic model lacks balance with regards to the pillars of sustainable development.

In most cases, the circular economy is inclined mainly toward environment protection [1]. This neglects the social and economic aspects. It implies that by implementing principles of circular economy, some of the sustainable development goals may be overlooked or contradicted, such as those aimed to eradicate poverty, food insecurity and world hunger.

Some of the requirements for establishing a circular economy, like knowledge, skill and innovation, are not easy to combine without considerable economic consequences.

The use of innovative technologies like artificial intelligence can affect the availability of jobs for the human population.

Lastly, use of recycled products can have long-term negative effects on efficiency, health and safety [4].


7). Regulatory Challenges

Because of the complexity of the circular economy, it is difficult to establish an effective set of regulations guiding how this economic model can be implemented.

In a linear economy, regulations are made mainly to guide how raw materials are extracted, and how products are created.

On the other hand, the circular economy must involve regulations that guide all aspects of the product lifecycle, including recycling.

Circular economic regulations are expected to guide both producers and consumers on how to conserve resources and minimize waste. This requires effective cooperation among stakeholder in the local, federal and private sectors. It also requires a specialized approach based on the evaluation of environmental conditions, product characteristics and supply-and-demand metrics.

Due to such complexities, it is common to have regulations which contradict some of the principles of circular economy, while supporting others. It is also difficult to develop and adhere to a clear set of regulations.


8). Inefficient Modelling (as Disadvantages of Circular Economy)

It has been mentioned that there are different definitions of the circular economy.

Also, we have seen how the circular economic concept is more complex than that of linear economy, and may prioritize one aspect of sustainable development over another.

These conditions imply that there are various models which can be used to represent the circular economy. In some cases, the model used is either incorrect or inefficient.

Because of the tendency to lay unbalanced emphasis on sustainability, a model of circular economy can be designed which achieves waste management and resource conservation, but fails to achieve profitability and high product quality.

In other cases, a correct model can be developed, but due to the effort to meet numerous objectives, the overall efficiency of the model may be reduced. An example is the creation of high-quality, regenerative products that have low profitability due to the cost of production.

Inefficient modelling is a reflection of the issue of low feasibility, of the circular economic concept.


9). Lack of Infrastructure

In order to develop regenerative products, and recycle these products after they have been used, infrastructure is important.

Other aspects of the circular economy such as renewable energy development, require infrastructure as well.

The lack of adequate or suitable infrastructure is one of the most common disadvantages of circular economy [6]. This is especially the case for recycling, which involves diverse types of materials.

Lack of infrastructure leads to low effectiveness and efficiency.



Disadvantages of circular economy are;

  1. Low Feasibility
  2. Technical Limitations
  3. Lack of Diversity
  4. Knowledge and Skills Requirement
  5. Questionable Quality of Products
  6. Long-term Sustainability Issues
  7. Regulatory Challenges
  8. Inefficient Modelling
  9. Lack of Infrastructure



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