‘Only 7.2 per cent circular’ reveals Circularity Gap Report

By Tamanna Wadhwani  February 3rd, 2023

With a drop in global circularity, the latest Gap Report reveals circular solutions across four key systems that can address our major environmental issues.


The Circularity Gap Report 2023, published by Circle Economy, has uncovered that the world is now only 7.2 per cent circular – meaning that only 7.2 per cent of the materials that we extract and use are being returned to the economy. This comes with a decline from the first Gap report’s 9.1 per cent circularity in 2018 followed by 8.6 per cent in 2020.  

Even though we are in a time that is witnessing more talks and attention on the circular economy, there still seems to be a slower rate of adopting circular principles. As our population grows rapidly, so does our material consumption and the need to build more. According to the report, the global population has doubled in the last 50 years and tripled in its material consumption. 

Despite current low circularity rates, the report provides hope that there is still time left to reverse the clock on consumption. It outlines circular solutions across just four key systems that can satiate our needs while utilising just 70 per cent of the materials we are using today. 

We have exceeded five out of nine planetary boundaries

Planetary boundaries are quantifiable and interrelated boundaries within which humanity can continue to survive as well as thrive. Exceeding these boundaries can lead to irreversible damage to the planet’s health, therefore directly affecting humanity. These boundaries include stratospheric ozone depletion, biodiversity loss, chemical pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, freshwater consumption, land system change, biogeochemical flows (phosphorous and nitrogen) and atmospheric aerosol landing.  

Currently, five out of these nine planetary boundaries have been exceeded and we are now living in what is called the ‘danger zone’ of irreversible change to each of these five areas. The circular economy can reverse this problem and drastically reduce the pressures on these planetary boundaries in various ways. According to the report, focusing on 16 solutions encompassed under just four major key systems can help us achieve this: 

1. Transform the global food system

  • Put healthier, satiating foods first

  • Go local, seasonal and organic

  • Mainstream regenerative agriculture

  • No more avoidable food waste

2. Build a circular built environment

  • Be as energy efficient as possible

  • Make the most of what already exists

  • Prioritise circular materials and approaches

  • Reuse waste

3. Achieve circular manufactured goods and consumables

  • Mainstream industrial symbiosis and efficiency

  • Extend the lifetime of machinery, equipment and goods

  • Buy what you need

  • Eschew fast fashion in favour of sustainable textiles

4. Drive forward circular mobility and transport 

  • Embrace car-free lifestyles and roads

  • Invest in high-quality public transport

  • Rethink air travel

  • Electrify remaining vehicles

Despite material consumption tripling in the last 50 years, consumption can look different for different countries and is unevenly distributed throughout the world. Many high-income countries have some of the highest amounts of material consumption and vice versa, despite lower populations. Therefore, what a circular economy looks like, irrespective of its defining principles will have stark differences for different countries.  

To address this, the report broadly categorises countries and their circular economy journeys into three profiles, based on where they are at in their progress. The categories are ‘Build’, ‘Grow’ and ‘Shift’. Build countries are those that live within planetary boundaries but still must build an economic system that covers their basic needs, and these consist of 46% of the global population. Countries under the Grow category, housing 37% of the population, need to continue growing to satisfy their societal needs although they must stay within their planetary boundaries. Lastly, the Shift countries are usually high-income countries that are over-consuming to meet their wants. They represent a small amount of the population; however, they contribute to 31% of material consumption.   

To dive deeper into these solutions, you can read the full Circular Economy Gap Report 2023


Tamanna Wadhwani

Tamanna moved from India to Australia to pursue a degree in environmental science and conservation biology. After learning about the concept of a circular economy in 2020, she worked with various organisations in this sector and is interested in solving complex climate change and waste management problems. She loves to communicate with people about all things sustainability or animals. Outside of work, Tamanna is a budding hip hop dancer who also loves travelling, cat cuddles and reading.

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