Research studies

Circular Economy: A New Pathway to Sustainability in Africa


Prepared by the researcher – Samar H. Albagoury – Faculty of African Post Graduate Studies, Cairo University

Democratic Arab Center

Journal of Afro-Asian Studies : Sixth issue – July 2020

A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin. The journal deals with the field of Afro-Asian strategic, political and economic studies

Nationales ISSN-Zentrum für Deutschland
ISSN 2628-6475
Journal of Afro-Asian Studies
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Circular Economy concept is increasingly gaining attention in environmental and economic literatures, industry and policymakers’ agenda as a new way to achieve sustainable development and to balance the economic and environmental sustainability in both developed and developing countries. Circular Economy could be considered as a new economic model that replace the traditional linear economic model, in which raw materials are used to make a product, and after its use any waste is thrown away, to a non linear circular model based on recycling and reusing of materials, in which there is almost zero waste. It aims to stimulate economic growth while reducing pressure on environment and natural resources. This paper aims to identify the status and recent applications of circular economy in Africa, by first gives a conceptual framework of circular economy and its relationship with sustainable development, and its status in Africa both on macro and micro levels. And then analyse its potentials and opportunities in Africa and the existing barriers that may hinder the adaptation of that economic model through PEST analysis. The paper found that although Africa has huge potentials to implement circular economy especially considering waste management which is not fully utilized yet, there is still no clear notification for circular economy in governmental planes and development strategies, circular economy practices is widely exists in African societies but mostly by informal actors. The paper also found that in order to implement circular economy as a new pathway to achieve sustainable development a lot of constraints and barriers (economic, social and technical) needed to be addressed with a comprehensive plane that paved the way to implement circular economy.

  1. Introduction:

Traditional economic development approaches usually associated with natural resources depletion and causes severe ecological and social impacts. In order to move into more sustainable economic system, a recent approach for overcoming the current linearity of product lifecycles is the Circular Economy. Circular economy suggests keeping materials available instead of disposing them, and thus closing the loop of materials within the product lifecycle. The economic growth in an economy applying circular economy is no longer achieved by producing more products, but by keeping them available for longer time.

Although the idea of materials cycles has been discussed since the early stages of industrialization, it appears to the surface again by the current discussion on climate change issues and sustainable development. Unlike traditional recycling approaches, circular economy approach focus on product, component and material reuse, remanufacturing, renovation, repair, cascading and upgrading as well as sustainable energy utilization through the product value chain using cradle-to-cradle life cycle approach (Korhonen, 2018).

In the African context, the African population is growing in a relatively high rate, putting an accelerating pressure on its natural resources. And the risks of recent environmental issues as climate change and its impacts become a real threaten to African countries since the majority African population still heavily depend on natural resources and traditional agricultural sector in their living. All of these factors making circular economy a reasonable strategy that could help African countries to achieve sustainable development with an efficient use of their natural resources.

This paper aims to answer the question of whether circular economy could be a new pathway to achieve sustainable development in Africa or not? to analyse the possibility of applying circular economy as an economic development strategy in African continent, by first defining the concept and identifying its scope and dimensions, then presenting some countries’ experiences in implementing circular economy. And then showing the status of circular economy in African countries and the main opportunities and barriers may face African countries in their transformation to this new economic model using PEST analysis which is a strategic planning tool used to identifies the Political, Economic, Social, and Technical factors that affect the implementation of circular economy as an alternative development pathway in Africa.

  1. Circular Economy Definition:

The term Circular Economy is used for the first time in Pearce and Turner book “Economies of Natural Resources and the Environment”. In this book, the authors argue that the traditional linear economy is not helping in the recovery of materials and energy and is turning the environment to a waste reservoir. And that the only way to preserve material and energy is by adopting a closed-loop system and named it: Circular Economy (Pearce, 1990).

Circular Economy could be considered as a new economic model to replace the traditional linear economic model, in which raw materials are used to make a product, and after its use any waste is thrown away, to a non-linear circular model based on recycling and reusing of materials, in which there is almost zero waste. It aims to stimulate economic growth while reducing burdens or pressure on environment and natural non-renewable resources. This includes lowering material inputs and minimizes waste generation (Moraga, 2019). The following figure shows the different between linear and circular economy models.

In this context, Circular economy could be distinguished from any other linear economy model by two main characteristics: Slowing resource loops and Closing resource loops. Slowing resource loops in circular economy is achieved through the design of long-life goods and product, where product and service life extended through maintenance, repairing and remanufacturing. Accordingly, the utilization period of products is extended and/or intensified causing the slowdown of the flow of resources. On the other hand, closing loops meaning that the loop between post-use and production is closed, because the waste is turned back into the production process as secondary resources. (Bocken, 2016)

Circular Economy could be seen as a new economic model aims to rationalize resources uses by following what is called the 3Rs principle: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. It aims to reduce resources uses, product reuse and utilize the waste (Chun-rong, 2011). Some literatures add additional R: for Recover, as shown in figure (2), while others go further to 6Rs and 9Rs by adding to the previously mentioned 4Rs: Rethink, Repair, Refurbish, Remanufacture, and Repurpose. But in implementation the 3Rs & 4Rs are the only forms appears in policy framework: 3Rs in China, and 4Rs in European Union circular economy plans for example. (Kirchherr, 2017).

Circular Economy
Increase efficiency in product manufacture or use by consuming fewer natural resources and materials.
Linear Economy
Reuse by anther consumer of discarded product which is still in good condition and fulfils it original function.
Process materials to obtain the same (high grade) or lower (low grade) quality.
Incineration of material with energy recovery.
Figure 2: 4Rs framework of Circular Economy
Source: Adopted from: Kirchherr, 2017

Although the previous aspects or dimensions of circular economy are clearly identified in Circular economy literature, there is still no single and widely agreed definition of this concept. However, The most comprehensive definitions that combined the Circular Economy dimensions and scope and relate it to sustainable development are found in (Kirchherr, 2017): Circular Economy is the economic system in which “end-of-life” concept is replaced with reducing, alternatively reusing, recycling and recovering materials in production, distribution and consumption process to achieve sustainable development with its sub-dimensions: environmental quality, economic prosperity and social equity. It operates in micro level (products, companies, consumer), meso level (con-industrial parks) and macro levels (city, region, nations). And in (Korhonen, 2018) who define Circular Economy as: A sustainable development strategy aims to reduce the common production-consumption systems’ linear material and energy flows by applying materials cycles, renewable and cascade-type energy flows.  It combines high value material cycles with more traditional recycling and developed systems approaches to the cooperation of producers, consumers and other societal actors in sustainable development process.

In this context circular economy could be distinguished from green economy as strategies to achieve sustainable development. Actually, green economy could be seen as a part of the circular economy since it usually focuses on the clean production process that is environmentally and economically efficient, but the after-production practices that appear in the circular economy model does not explicitly included in the green economy.

In the absence of a single agreed definition for circular economy, measuring or monitoring its applications became more and more complicated. However, the European Commission recently developed a monitoring framework for Circular Economy, in which circular economy model is divided into four subsections: production and consumption; waste management; secondary raw materials; and competitiveness and innovations. As shown in figure (3), each of these sections is measured through a group of indicators, giving all together a framework of the implementation level of circular economy. (European Commission, 2020).

  1. Circular Economy in Practice:

Although the circular economy model is still relatively new, some countries already choose to include it in their strategies to reduce the environmental deterioration and achieve sustainability. China is the first country adopted circular economy concepts in its governmental policies since 2012. Targeting a successful and effective implementation of circular economy, Chinese government implement circular economy horizontally within industries, urban infrastructure, cultural, environmental, and social consumption systems, and vertically on micro level (enterprises), miso level (industrial parks), and macro level (cities and regions). China transformation strategy toward circular economy was through the “Twelfth five-year plan for national Economy and Society Development” that aims to promote green development and circular economy in China. It targeted to increase resource productivity by 15% over the five-year period.

            European Union (EU) adopted circular economy in 2015 as a part of the EU’s 2020 strategy initiative to shift European economy towards a more sustainable direction. In this context, the EU policies include legislative proposals on waste, with long run targets to reduce land-filling and increase recycling and reuse. It also includes an action plan to support the circular economy practices in each step of the value chain from production to consumption, repairing and remanufacturing, waste management, and insuring material fed back into the economy (Scoones, 2019).

The Netherlands also adopted circular economy concepts within its governmental program aimed to the fully adaptation by 2050. The government select five economic sectors and value chains to switch to circular economy: Biomass and food; Plastics; Manufacturing industry; Construction sector; and Consumer goods. (Valavanidids, 2018)

On the micro levels, Sweden adopted the Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme (EPR) in car industry, which adds environmental costs during the product lifecycle, into the market price of the product. And this extra money is transferred to Car Scrapping Fund, funding the dismantling process. thus it makes the producer responsible for the waste of the product life cycle using financial incentives, either combined with reuse, buyback or recycling initiative (Mativenga, 2017). While in Japan, the end-of-life vehicles (ELV) system includes a recycling fee collected by the Japan Automobile Recycling Promotion Centre. By this system, Japan manages to achieve 95% recovery of automotive shedder residues (Mativenga, 2017).

To sum up, two notes could be mentioned from these examples. first: there is no case of fully implementation of circular economy on macro level even in china which is the first country adopt this model and even in other countries that include it in its sustainability planes. Second; the above mentioned case studies are all developed countries, there is still no clear implementation of circular economy in developing or less developed countries neither on micro nor on macro levels.

  1. Circular Economy Prospects in Africa:

While the environmental factors may be the main motivation for transforming to circular economy in developed countries, the economic potentials associated with circular economy could be a great motivation for transforming to circular economy in developing and less developed countries especially in Africa. Circular economy has the potentials of decreasing cost of production, reducing exposure to price fluctuations, enhance renewable energy using, decreasing the depletion of raw materials, and creating more value added in manufacture sector by the reusing, recycling activities (Desmond, 2019). In this way, Circular economy is considered as an alternative approach to achieve sustainable development in Africa. However, the African economies are still operating mostly on a linear model basis of extraction, production, use and dispose, whereby all products will irreversibly reach their end of life.

There are huge potentials for circular economy, knowing that African waste management market for example is growing significantly, with an average waste collection rate of only 55%. Most of municipal solid waste collection services in many African countries are inadequate. With an average of 57% of municipal solid waste in Africa being biodegradable organic waste, the bulk of the waste is dumped. About 90% of the waste generated in Africa is disposed of to land, typically to uncontrolled and controlled dumpsites. Only about 4% of the waste generated in Africa is recycled, often by informal actors. (Mordor Intellidence, 2019)

Although the concept of circular economy is still new and not clearly stated in the sustainable development planes of African countries, the circular economy practices is actually existing and wildly spread in the continent. Industrial repairing and remanufacturing industries such as Sume/Kumasi automotive cluster in Ghana have been operating successfully for decades even before the concept of circular economy is exists (Desmond, 2019). But these practices are still not related together in manufacturing supply chain to build a full circular economy model and most of these practices actually are done within the informal sector.

Circular Economy policies and regulations are still limited in African countries, the regulations and legislations in Africa are only focus on one or more aspect of circular economy: as green economy, and/or waste management. But there is no complete plane or framework of circular economy implementation. Even in Africa 2063 Agenda, while concepts as green and blue economy are explicitly mentioned in its inspirations and sub-visions, only some practices and principles of circular economy is included and there is no clear mention of this economic model in the agenda. The agenda implementation plane (2014-2023) outlines specific goals to be achieved during the first ten years, including reference to the expected transformation of waste management and targeting recycling rate to reach 50% regarding urban waste by 2023.

The following table shows some of the African policies and initiatives that could be related to circular Economy both on national level and on regional level.

Table 1: Circular Economy policies and initiatives in Africa

Country Policy / initiative and year Implementation Agency Policy goals
South Africa, Rwanda, and Nigeria The African Circular Economy Alliance (ACEA), announced at COP23 in Bonn in November 2017 World Economic Forum & the Global Environment Facility in collaboration with the governments of South Africa, Nigeria and Rwanda. to link projects and programmes in Africa and stimulate momentum towards the transformation to circular economy
Ethiopia Climate Resilient Green Economy, 2011 Ministry of Environment Reduce impact of climate change through renewable energy
Ghana Ghana goes for Green Growth, 2010 Ministry of Environment Sustainable Development and Equitable Low Carbon Economic Growth
Kenya Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action – Circular Economy Municipal Solid Waste Management Approach for  Urban Areas, 2016 Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Diversion of waste from disposable sites towards recycling
Namibia Green Economic Coalition Dialogue, 2011 Ministry of labour and Social welfare Economic Development, Job Creation and CO2 Reduction.
Nigeria Extended Producer Responsibility Programme, 2013 National Environmental Standards Regulations Enforcement Agency Minimisation of industrial waste and promotion of recycling.
Rwanda Plastic Bag Law 57, 2008 Ministry of Natural Resources Prohibition of manufacturing importation, use and sale of polythene bag.
South Africa National Environmental Management Act, 1998 Ministry of Environment Minimisation of waste, pollution and use of natural resources

 Source: (Desmond, 2019)

The previous table shows that, although there are a growing trend in Africa related environmental issues and the importance of circular economy practices, the full adaptation of such economic model is still missing may be because this full implementation need a structural change n the country investment priorities and manufacturing systems, it need modernization of the industrial sectors in those countries that already suffer from being lagged behind the modern production technologies, the next section will discuss in more details the opportunities and barriers of circular economy implementation in Africa.

As mention earlier, circular economy practices and activities actually exists in many African countries on small or large scales, in formal and informal sectors. The following table shows some examples of circular economy practices in Africa on micro level.

Table 2: Circular Economy practices in Africa

Circular Economy Practice Initiative Benefit
Prioritise regenerative resources Biomimicry, South Africa SPACE Project – water & waste treatment solutions in Langrug informal settlement using Biomimicry principles to clean up the grey water, storm water and solid waste challenges
Design for the future Mazzi Can, Uganda and Tanzania Durable plastic to streamline the collection, storage, and transport of milk from smallholder farmers.
Incorporate Digital Technology COLIBA, Ivory Coast Waste management mobile phone application in five schools in Ghana, aiming to help users monetise their waste and satisfy the demand of recycling companies.
Collaborate to create joint value Suame/Kumasi Vehicle repair cluster, Ghana

Government/ World Bank, Tanzania

Collective efficiency prolonging vehicle life achieved by the 12,000 small workshops employing 200,000 workers

Collaboration to develop more water-efficient practices among smallholder farmers.

Use waste as a resource Sustainable heating, South Africa and Eco-Post, Kenya Biomass (residual carbon-based waste such as wood, sawdust, grain husks, sisal,.. etc.) is burned in furnaces. The heat from the combustion is used to feed local industries with steam and hot water. The by-product is ash which farmers can use to enrich their soils.

Approximately 2,000 new jobs created within four years of launch of the scheme.

Rethink the business model Hello Tractor Small-scale farmers request and pay for tractor services via SMS and mobile money.
Preserve and extend what’s already made Agbogbloshie, “Old Fadama” slum, Accra, Ghana

Imported e-waste, Nigeria

Destination for locally generated automobile and electronic scrap collected from across the city of Accra.

Approximately 70% of imported waste is refurbished, tasted and sold on.

Remanufacture Barloworld, South Africa Caterpillar Parts repaired and refurbished with new guarantee.

Source: (Desmond, 2019)

  1. Circular Economy Opportunities and Barriers in Africa:

Circular Economy could be considered as a new possible strategy to achieve sustainable development in Africa, it offers wide range of opportunities but still faces a wide range of barriers too. In this context, this paper uses the PEST too to identifies theses opportunities and barriers, according to this tool, the opportunities and barriers of circular economy are classified into Political, Economic, Social and Technical aspects besides the environmental aspects as follow.

5.1: Circular economy opportunities and potentials in Africa:

Circular Economy as a sustainable development strategy and as business model has a great opportunity in Africa and could be marketed easily to African population since it principles and practices are already been adopted in one way or another in the African communities specially by targeting its role in poverty eradication and in the small and medium businesses. Circular Economy in Africa has wide opportunities in agriculture, manufacturing, construction and waste management sectors as shown in figure 4. Those opportunities are highlighted in 2019 African ministerial conference on the environment on enhancing Circular Economy in Africa.

By using PEST analysis, the main opportunities or prospects of circular Economy n Africa are:

Economical and Political The implementation of circular economy has the potential to create many employment opportunities to local communities. Since circular economy implementation need more investments and operators in new areas and fields as recycling and maintenance and refurbishment. These activities could be an opportunity not only for large firms and entities but also for small and medium enterprises. Thus, it creates more job opportunities (MacArthur, 2013).


Circular Economy could increase firms’ profitability by reducing production costs through sustainable supply chain and end-of-life managements, decrease input prices and reduce waste generation. Firms also could sell their wastes instead of disposing them generating more profits (Kumar, 2019).


Technical and Environmental Circular Economy also enable the protection of natural resources by reduce the amount of new (virgin) raw materials used in the production and the utilization of waste and waste streams in the way that also reduce pollution generation. Such environmentally sound management practices offer operational and supply chain resilience and make it easier to penetrate into new developed markets. (Zhu, 2019).


Circular Economy improves the utilisation of waste and waste streams, in the way that enable preserving natural resources, water, energy and minerals. Respectively, it increases the productivity of materials by rework and recycling, extends their life cycles and decreases the need for land-fill sites. It also reduce consumption of fossil fuel and the emission of greenhouse gases and toxic substances. Therefore contribute to climate change mitigation (Geng, 2008).
Social Circular economy could enhance public health and environmental awareness. People become more aware about unsafe materials and prefer more environmentally friendly and safe products. (Park, 2010).

5.2: Circular Economy Barriers in Africa:

Although circular economy offers many opportunities for African countries, there are still a lot of barriers or constraints needed to be addressed in order to achieve the full potentials of this economic model in achieving sustainable development, those barriers could be classified into technical, economic and technical barriers as follow:

Economical/ Political and regulatory Circular economy requires a considerable amount of upfront investment. And it has a long pay-back period. (Mangla, 2018). Correspondingly, with the lack of financial support mechanisms and tax incentives firms will avoid the implementation of circular economics. (Ezzat, 2016)
Especially in African countries, circular economy may hinder the growth of African economies especially in countries that are dependent on the exports of natural resources. There is also the risk or concerns about health and environmental impacts of secondary materials such as e-waste that are imported into the countries (Desmond, 2019).
Lack of data and statistics to build policies and planes for circular economy and conduct the market studies needed to start the new firms for circular economy activities.
The lack of regulatory framework organizing circular economy practices within and between African countries as the regulation for trade in waste for example and its environmental and health constraints.
The lack of integrated circular economy plans as an integrated regional waste management plans for example that could promote sustainable business models, as mentioned during the regional meeting on integrated waste management in Africa, held in accra on June 2019.
Technical Adopting Circular economy model need an integrated ecosystem capacity within the waste management hierarchy poses a great challenge for society, governments and productive societies as seen in figure (3). Especially in African countries, where infrastructure availability and waste valorisation rates are lower than those observed in developed countries. Therefore, the circular economy concept and its implementation in industry and country level is an approach to minimize and manage waste effectively and efficiently. (Paes, 2018)
Lack of technology, techniques and expertise needed to fully implement circular economy model (Agyemang, 2019).
The existing waste resources management systems in Africa are generally low-tech and they limit maximum utilisation of recovered materials. The land-filling and incineration activities also lack adequate technologies; as a consequence, these activities cause huge environmental losses which cannot be reverted back. Additionally, scavenger and decomposer companies lack capacity to create new fields due to existing policies (Kumar, 2019).
Social Cultural, political and economic aspects, such as the utilitarian buying behaviour, and anthropocentric attitude toward waste disposal, unawareness of the customers and entrepreneurs, and lack of environmental laws and regulations (Gaur, 2019) (Sharma, 2019).
He lack of environmental and health standards and regulations concerning recycling and reusing activities may reverse the effect of such model to be a real threaten to environment and cause a serious health issues in the African countries.
  1. Conclusion and Policy Implications:

This paper investigates the circular economy as a new economic model to achieve the sustainable development in Africa, by first define the concept and its dimensions and then the prospects of circular economy in African contest followed by identifying the main opportunities and barriers of circular economy in Africa.

The transition to circular economy in Africa can contribute towards the achievement of sustainable development goals, particularly Goal 12 “Sustainable Production and Consumption”. The opportunities for accelerating circular economy principles in Africa are increasing but the barriers still exist.

The paper found that, in order to successfully implement Circular Economy, the implementation should start from micro level with firms and enterprises. Then, macro level, since each level forms a basis for the following level and make it possible to develop a sustainable economic growth and development. This could be done through:

1st: Introduce financial and non-financial incentives that can support the transition towards the circular economy.

2nd: Establish strict environmental and sustainability requirements for firms and companies to overcome the resistance during the transition towards a circular economy model.

3rd: Support having indicators of progress those take into account the sustainability of that growth in an environmental and social context.

4th: Create a suitable legislative and regulations framework to support the transition towards circular economy.

5th: Enhance Research and invention in the 4Rs aspects of circular economy.


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