The terms of the circular economy

The terms of the circular economy

In the current economy, economic growth is fueled by excessive and intense use of natural resources. Due to emerging threats of running out of resources, climate change, loss of biodiversity, and not being able to cope with the amounts of waste being disposed of into our oceans and nature. There is a vast need for what could be mentioned as a good disruption to our way of generating economic growth. One of these disruptions needed is argued to be to create a cradle-to-cradle material bank, enforcing the circulation of natural resources and enabling endless use of materials. However, this is only feasible if these materials are kept pure if they are designed for disassembling and reuse, and finally if we can use our technological advancements to create a tracking system to identify items, that have passed the first life cycle. Through better design principles, we are able to continue economic growth by turning in-use materials into competitive assets. This way of thinking, and the approach to create a value of what we traditionally waste, is referred to as the Circular Economy (Source: A good Disruption, EMF).

Circular economy refers to keeping resources in a circular loop and reutilizing resources as long as possible, either in one or more life cycles. Circular economy refers to the economy where we limit waste, and therefore rearrange economic potential from producing to remanufacturing. Working with the circular economy, and other sustainable approaches that aim to minimize waste, several terms are referring to production and consumption, one will often meet. Some terms such as recycling are much more known and defined compared to the more complex terms such as remanufacturing or refurbishment, and often we meet that people use the terms repair and life extension, despite these being the focus on several of these defining terms. In this paper, we aim to present all the terms related to circular economy and production and consumption, to categorize and explain these in-depth.

Catchy terms such as the 9 R’s; “Refuse, Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Refurbish, Remanufacture, Repurpose, Recycle, Recover” where number of these have been used as catchphrases due to their easily understandable nature. We will attempt to categories these terms with the CE terms presented in this paper, and provide in-depth descriptions, to make it possible to differentiate the terms and pin them to the individual processes.

Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2017

The following terms are categorized by most favorable solutions according to the Circular Economy Principles, with energy recovery and disposal being least favorable and not part of the CE principles, as they do not minimize waste creation.  

1. Prevention:

Waste prevention relates to reducing the amount of waste generated, reducing the amount of hazardous waste, and reducing the impact on the environment. When people create less waste, they consume fewer resources. This term closely relates to rethink and reduce one’s consumption patterns.

2. Minimization:

Waste minimization is a set of practices intended to reduce the amount of waste produced. By reducing or eliminating the generation of harmful and persistent wastes, waste minimization supports efforts to promote a more sustainable society. Waste minimization involves redesigning products and processes, while changing societal patterns of consumption and production.

3. Remanufacturing:

Remanufacturing is the repair or replacement of worn-out or obsolete components and modules. Remanufacturing is a form of a product recovery process that differs from other recovery processes in its completeness: a remanufactured machine should match the same customer expectation as new machines. Functioning, reusable parts are taken out of a used product and rebuilt into another. This process includes quality assurance and potential enhancements or changes to the components. By definition, the performance of the remanufactured component is equal to or better than ‘as new’, while producers are able to provide a guarantee as a new component. Remanufacturing in production is the most desirable term due to its high level of quality while being of lower cost than the equivalent new component. From cases, it’s been proven that for productions to increase the use of remanufacturing, these have gained the advantages of new market shares, increase of staff, increase of sales while the decrease in used materials/resources. The term remanufacturing is the central production-term put forth in the circular economy.

4. Repair / Reconditioning:

Product reconditioning involves returning a product to good working condition by replacing or repairing major components that are faulty or close to failure, and making ‘cosmetic changes’ to update the appearance of a product, using methods such as resurfacing, repainting, etc. Any subsequent warranty is generally less than issued for a new or remanufactured product, but the warranty is likely to cover the whole product. Accordingly, the performance may be less than ‘as new’.

5. Refurbishment:

Refurbishment refers to the process of life-extending a component in a second life cycle, therefore moving away from the first life cycle and initial production purpose. It is defined as utilizing a component in a role it was not originally designed for.

6. Reuse:

Reuse refers is the action or practice of using an item, whether for its original purpose or to fulfill a different function, therefore re-functioning the item. It should be distinguished from recycling, which is the breaking down of used items to make raw materials for the manufacture of new products. Reuse – by taking, but not reprocessing, previously used items – helps save time, money, energy, and resources. In this term, life extension can be imbedded. If the item is reused for original purpose, it stays in first lifecycle, however if parts of item is reused in different function, it will enter its second lifecycle. Life extension can be interpreted in all scenarios from remanufactured, repair/reconditioning, refurbishment and reuse.

7. Recycling:

Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects. The recyclability of a material depends on its ability to reacquire the properties it had in its virgin state. It is an alternative to “conventional” waste disposal that can save material and help lower greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling can prevent the waste of potentially useful materials and reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials, thereby reducing energy usage, air pollution, and water pollution. Recycling is the last of the official circular economy terms, and the least favorable, as when designing from waste it is ultimately downcycled, however can be argued to slow the rate of waste creation.

8. Energy recovery:

Energy recovery or also known as Waste-to-energy (WtE) is the process of generating energy in the form of electricity and/or heat from the primary treatment of waste, or the processing of waste into a fuel source. WtE is a form of energy recovery. Most WtE processes generate electricity and/or heat directly through combustion, or produce a combustible fuel commodity, such as methane, methanol, ethanol, or synthetic fuels. WtE is also commonly used in the disposal of plant or animal material, known as biomass, to create biofuels and bioenergy, aimed at creating a new source of renewable energy.

9. Disposal:

Removing and destroying or storing damaged, used, or other unwanted domestic, agricultural, or industrial products and substances. Disposal includes burning, burial at landfill sites or at sea, and recycling.

Source: ReFlow Maritime

This overview of terms is created to enlighten the maritime industry, to enable a common understanding of the circular economy terms. This is also for the industry to get an in-depth understanding of what we should aim for both in product design, in product repairs and how to decrease our amounts of disposed materials. The circular economy implemented in the automotive industry have proven to create economic growth, through creating more jobs, creating new revenue streams and entering new markets, while decreasing waste and keeping resources in use, either in first lifecycle or thereafter. Harvesting the benefits of the circular economy is in reach for the maritime industry, however it takes a change of mind, a change of design and a change of how we have been doing business till now. 

Screenshot 2022-02-23 at 19.07.09

Circular Economy – ReFlow Maritime


Webinar Cirkulær Økonomi

Vi vil gerne invitere medlemmere af Danske Maritime til Webinar Onsdag den 27. maj 2020, kl. 15.00–16.00 hvor vores CEO Rasmus Elsborg-Jensen vil give hans syn på Cirkulær Økonomi som et værktøj til besparelser og grøn branding Danske Maritime og ReFlow

Maritime inviterer til et webinar, hvor vi introducerer cirkulær økonomi som et værktøj, der potentielt kan skabe vækst, job og en grønnere maritim industri.

COVID-19 krisen har medført forandring og usikkerhed om fremtiden i den maritime industri. Asiatiske underleverandører og producenter har i nogen tid været lukket ned, hvilket bl.a. medfører problemer med leveringssikkerheden. Men det åbner også op for nye muligheder!

Vi vil gennem vores webinar blive inspireret af cases og eksempler. Derudover vil vi komme med forslag til, hvordan man, som producent eller servicevirksomhed, selv kan komme i gang.

Webinaret henvender sig til danske maritime producenter og servicevirksomheder af fysiske produkter, der er nybegyndere eller kun har en lille viden inden for cirkulær økonomi.


  • Velkomst v/Jenny N. Braat, CEO Danske Maritime
  • Introduktion til cirkulær økonomi
  • Begreber og definitioner
    Hvad er forskellen på repair, remanufacturing og service? 
    Hvornår er noget cirkulært?
    Er nyt altid bedre?
  • Cirkulære forretningsmodeller
    Hvordan kan nye forretningsmodeller styrke konkurrenceevnen?
    Kan jeg leje/lease mit produkt ud?

  • CO -aftryk og klima
    Hvor meget kan man sænke et produkts CO2-aftryk ved at tænke cirkulært – og hvordan dokumenterer man det?
  • Cases og eksempler 
    Fra maritime virksomheder samt Renault, Airbus m.fl.
  • Spørgsmål og diskussion

Circular Economy: a solution to cutting carbon emissions

Circular Economy: a solution to cutting carbon emissions

The European Green Deal

In 2015, the European Commission launched the EU’s circular economy action plan. The action plan aimed to ensure that the right regulatory framework was in place to give clear signals to economic operators and society on the way forward with long term waste targets and an ambitious set of actions to be carried out before 2020. The 2015 action plan did include a ban on single-use plastics and new recycling targets, however according to the climate panel report delivered by the Danish Innovation fund, still only 9% of more than 90 billion tons of materials are reused. Despite the ambitious goals in the 2015 action plan, the number of non-reused waste has tripled over the last half-decade and is set to double again by the time we reach 2050 unless we slow this tendency drastically.

On the 13th of November, the European Commission announced the importance of embracing the Circular Economy as a direct tool to “bridge half of the gap towards the 1.5C target” as implementing a circular solution can help cut large CO2 emissions. The 1.5C target is a more ambitious target from the earlier aspiration to keep global temperature rise below 2C by the end of this century. The newly appointed Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasized the aim for Europe to cut carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050, where a new circular economy action plan will make up for about half of the carbon cuts. It was also mentioned that National Governments urged for the adoption of a new circular action plan in the industrial sectors, which haven’t been tackled yet in the 2015 action plan. The industries mentioned include textiles, transport, food and the sectors of construction and demolition sectors. With the newly appointed Commission, a second circular economy action plan is being prepared and will be released shortly after the new Commission takes office.

“[The circular economy] will be erected as “the number one priority” of the upcoming European Green Deal.”

Source: Euractiv, 13th Nov 2019

White Paper on solutions to mitigate climate change

On the same day, the 13th of November, the Danish Innovation Fund released its ‘White Paper on solutions to mitigate climate change and assessment of Danish Strongholds’, formulated by the Fund’s Climate Solution Panel. It’s clear that lately fighting climate change has become of big political priority. The Danish Government has responded to the 1.5C target, with the ambition to reduce emissions by 70% by 2030. To reach this target, the White Paper urges the need to find solutions that “require collaborations between business, science, energy, agriculture, transportation, industry, and infrastructure”. Moreover, this entails the adoption of low carbon technologies and production processes as well as universal behavioral changes. This calls for technological innovation, in addition to implementing policies and regulations to accelerate this transition to a low carbon society. The Danish Innovation Fund further mentions how this may enable “Danish innovation to play a key role in the global climate change mitigation efforts”.

Similar to the focus of the European Commission, the White Paper identifies the circular economy as one of the overarching solutions, accompanied by the solutions of using Data, AI and IoT as new connected ecosystems, enabling the decentralization of energy supply and demand.

The White Paper recognizes a lack of inclusion of circular economy in global policies, despite its vast potential to fight global emissions. They mention the disconnect between the efforts to fight climate change and the continued use of natural resources for production and consumption purposes. These manufactured products have the potential, through innovative practices, to extend their lifespan either through recycling or re-utilization. Moreover, mentioning how the circular economy serves as a big part of the resolution as climate solutions need to follow value chains. This is closely related to Sustainable Development Goal 12, targeting sustainable production and consumption patterns, and The Danish Innovation Fund recommends increasing the circular approach to industrial processes, for a more effective energy use and increasing materials lifecycles.

Circular Economy in the Maritime

At Reflow Maritime, we find it evident that the circular economy is an effective solution to cutting carbon emissions and aims at combining technology with an innovative approach to facilitating circular economy in the maritime industry. We believe that the key to engaging maritime components in a circular flow, while simultaneously complying with security standards is to increase traceability on the individual component. Traceability has previously been key to the facilitation of circular economy, for example, industries such as aviation and automobile use traceability to re-utilize components. As the new European Green Deal values circular economy as the number one priority, especially in the industries that haven’t been tackled in the 2015 action plan, we find it obvious that the maritime industry will be affected by this new action plan.

International Maritime Organization has already facilitated strict regulations in NOx and SOx emissions from engine fuels, however, at ReFlow we find it necessary to look into the whole value chain of the vessel. By engaging maritime components into a circular flow, it’s possible to decrease carbon emissions up to 70%, and by increasing traceability on the component, we can ensure that the re-utilization still comply. The circular economy and increase of traceability can be implemented costless, however, the obstacle to tackle is the change of behavior. This change of mindset serves as the biggest challenge to facilitating effective climate change efforts, and therefore the industry needs to be eased into this transition.