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Special Issue "The Circular Economy Challenge: Towards a Sustainable Development"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Environmental Sustainability and Applications".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 December 2021).

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Alessia Amato
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Life and Environmental Sciences (DiSVA), Università Politecnica of Marche, Via Brecce Bianche, 60131 Ancona, Italy
Interests: hydrometallurgy; biotechnology; critical raw materials; life cycle assessment; circular economy; sustainability.

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The modern economy has been based on a linear design, where the keywords are “take”, “make”, “use”, and “dispose”. This approach has led to constant economic growth that neglects the real limits of our planet. The negative effects have been evident with consequences for both the environmental end the social spheres. Over the last decade, growing attention has been paid to the new model of a circular economy, in response to the global situation. The circular economy is not only a simple business model, but rather the integration of many strategies for the protection of the natural ecosystem and the maintenance of economic stability worldwide. A holistic approach is vital for the success of this new economy, where technological advancement must be combined with the assessment of the possible repercussion on the sustainability spheres (environmental, social, and economic). Many tools can support economy transactions, such as the life cycle assessment, able to push the strategic choices towards the impact reduction, in the most disparate fields.

This Special Issue will collect current knowledge and innovative methods developed in agreement with the main principles of the circular economy. New proposals should provide methods that act on the eco-design of processes/products and to exploit waste flows. Studies should supply unconventional models to evaluate systems from a holistic point of view. The further possibility of the achievement of indexes to describe the circularity level of a system could be essential for the implementation of sustainable policies.

Dr. Alessia Amato
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Circular economy
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Social sustainability
  • Economic sustainability
  • Holistic approach
  • Life cycle assessment

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Research

Article
Challenging Novelties within the Circular Economy Concept under the Digital Transformation of Society
Sustainability 2022, 14(2), 702; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14020702 - 09 Jan 2022
Viewed by 159
Abstract
The study makes, under a new configuration of the circular economy, a cross-country analysis based on the Competitiveness and Innovation Indicators in the E.U., i.e., two sub-criteria: private investments, jobs, and gross value added; and patents related to recycling and secondary raw materials [...] Read more.
The study makes, under a new configuration of the circular economy, a cross-country analysis based on the Competitiveness and Innovation Indicators in the E.U., i.e., two sub-criteria: private investments, jobs, and gross value added; and patents related to recycling and secondary raw materials as a proxy for innovation. The analysis proved that investments influence the number of patents, and participate in societal transformation. A further cluster analysis classified countries on the level of innovation. The cluster analysis in SPSS centres on significant potential, weaknesses, impact, and waste management control through blockchain technology. It is found that the factors that influence innovation, according to the Global Competitiveness Report, link the business dynamism and innovation capability with the capacity to sustain resilient ideas, such as competitive intelligence and social entrepreneurship. The discussions aim to prove that the efforts to rethink the circular economy principles contribute to its conceptual and societal transformation role through the implementation of innovative processes, inventive solutions, and blockchain technologies, and their social consequences to solve environmental problems. Once understood and accepted, CE will drive sustainable behaviour. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Circular Economy Challenge: Towards a Sustainable Development)
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Article
Circularity in the New Gravity—Re-Thinking Vernacular Architecture and Circularity
Sustainability 2022, 14(1), 328; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14010328 - 29 Dec 2021
Viewed by 162
Abstract
The mounting climate change crisis and the rapid urbanization of cities have pressured many practitioners, policymakers, and even private investors to develop new policies, processes, and methods for achieving more sustainable construction methods. Buildings are considered to be among the main contributors to [...] Read more.
The mounting climate change crisis and the rapid urbanization of cities have pressured many practitioners, policymakers, and even private investors to develop new policies, processes, and methods for achieving more sustainable construction methods. Buildings are considered to be among the main contributors to harmful environmental impacts, resource consumption, and waste generation. The concept of a circular economy (CE), also referred to as “circularity”, has gained a great deal of popularity in recent years. CE, in the context of the building industry, is based on the concept of sustainable construction, which calls for reducing negative environmental impacts while providing a healthier indoor environment and closing material loops. Both vernacular architecture design strategies and circular economy principles share many of the same core concepts. This paper aims at investigating circular economy principles in relation to vernacular architecture principles in the built environment. The study demonstrates how circular principles can be achieved through the use of vernacular construction techniques and using local building materials. This paper will focus on Egypt as one of the oldest civilizations in the world, with a wide vernacular heritage, exploring how circularity is rooted in old vernacular settlements and how it can inspire contemporary circular practices. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Circular Economy Challenge: Towards a Sustainable Development)
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Article
Unleashing the Importance of TQM and Knowledge Management for Organizational Sustainability in the Age of Circular Economy
Sustainability 2021, 13(20), 11514; https://doi.org/10.3390/su132011514 - 18 Oct 2021
Viewed by 740
Abstract
Despite the growing importance of the concept of circular economy, the case of developing countries remains under-explored. Against this backdrop, the present research aims to examine the association between the constructs of total quality management (TQM) and organizational sustainability (OS) with the mediating [...] Read more.
Despite the growing importance of the concept of circular economy, the case of developing countries remains under-explored. Against this backdrop, the present research aims to examine the association between the constructs of total quality management (TQM) and organizational sustainability (OS) with the mediating effect of knowledge management (KM) from the perspective of a circular economy. The data were collected from the manufacturing sector of a developing economy (n = 510) to serve the purpose of the current research through a self-administered questionnaire (paper-pencil technique). Structural equation modeling (SEM) was employed for hypothesis testing of the current survey. Six TQM dimensions were drawn from the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award (MBNQA) model. OS is composed of economic, social, and environmental sustainability, and KM is composed of four dimensions including acquisition, creation, sharing, and application of knowledge. The empirical examination suggests that TQM positively relates to OS, with KM playing a partial mediation role between this association. This study provides important insights for the management of the manufacturing industry of Pakistan on how to ensure organizational sustainability in the age of a circular economy by using the constructs of TQM and KM. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Circular Economy Challenge: Towards a Sustainable Development)
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Article
An Exploratory Study of the Policies and Legislative Perspectives on the End-of-Life of Lithium-Ion Batteries from the Perspective of Producer Obligation
Sustainability 2021, 13(20), 11154; https://doi.org/10.3390/su132011154 - 09 Oct 2021
Viewed by 400
Abstract
European self-sufficiency in the battery sector is one of the major EU needs. The key lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) materials demand is expected to increase in the next decade as a consequence of the increment in the LIBs production and a massive amount of [...] Read more.
European self-sufficiency in the battery sector is one of the major EU needs. The key lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) materials demand is expected to increase in the next decade as a consequence of the increment in the LIBs production and a massive amount of spent LIBs will flood global markets. Hence, these waste streams would be a potential source of secondary raw materials to be valorized, under the principle of circular economy. European governments first, and then companies in the battery sector second, are addressing many efforts in improving legislation on batteries and accumulators. This study explores the current legislative aspects, the main perspective from the producer’s point of view, and the possibility to guarantee a proper recycle of spent LIBs. A monitoring proposal by means of a survey has been carried out and the Italian context, which has been taken as an example of the European context, and it was used to evaluate the practical implication of the current legislation. The main result of the survey is that a specific identification as well as regulations for LIBs are needed. The benefit from a cradle-to-cradle circular economy is still far from the actual situation but several industrial examples and ongoing European projects show the importance and feasibility of the reuse (e.g., second life) and recycle of LIBs. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Circular Economy Challenge: Towards a Sustainable Development)
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Article
From Waste Pickers to Producers: An Inclusive Circular Economy Solution through Development of Cooperatives in Waste Management
Sustainability 2021, 13(16), 8925; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13168925 - 10 Aug 2021
Viewed by 1113
Abstract
The world’s global plastics waste crisis demands policy coordination and technological solutions to improve waste management systems, and organizations worldwide have created momentum around the concept of a circular economy. This paper advances a holistic, inclusive circular economy framework that aims to empower [...] Read more.
The world’s global plastics waste crisis demands policy coordination and technological solutions to improve waste management systems, and organizations worldwide have created momentum around the concept of a circular economy. This paper advances a holistic, inclusive circular economy framework that aims to empower waste pickers with the following basic pillars: (1) build collaborative networks of stakeholders to enable inclusion of waste pickers; (2) establish cooperative enterprise models to integrate waste pickers into the formal economy; (3) build waste pickers’ technical skills and capacity for entrepreneurship; and (4) provide access to technologies and markets that enable waste pickers to manufacture upcycled products. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Circular Economy Challenge: Towards a Sustainable Development)
Article
Untapped Aspects of Innovation and Competition within a European Resilient Circular Economy. A Dual Comparative Study
Sustainability 2021, 13(15), 8290; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13158290 - 24 Jul 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1026
Abstract
The paper aims to develop—based on a particular dual comparative analysis that follows the current European concerns—the concepts of competitiveness and innovation as pillars uprighting companies’ resilience, creating ecoinnovative jobs and social inclusion. In their struggle to meet the Circular Economy principles and [...] Read more.
The paper aims to develop—based on a particular dual comparative analysis that follows the current European concerns—the concepts of competitiveness and innovation as pillars uprighting companies’ resilience, creating ecoinnovative jobs and social inclusion. In their struggle to meet the Circular Economy principles and Green Deal objectives, the countries chosen for analyses—Romania and Serbia—have started implementing added-value blockchain concepts in their societies to thrive in the resilient European market and build empowered societies. According to the World Economic Forum Global Sources of Competitiveness, skills considered in our study refer to businesses’ versatility and societies’ innovation capability. Based on specific data provided by Eurostat, the results showed a correlation between the ecoinnovation index and R&D personnel by sector and helped design a regression model. Hence, we demonstrate that R&D creativity, once stimulated through innovative teaching, blooms, having positive effects at society and market levels as reflected in the ecoinnovation index. Furthermore, cluster analysis within E.U. innovation helped identify strengths and weaknesses, provided new grounds in applying innovation, and led to further recommendations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Circular Economy Challenge: Towards a Sustainable Development)
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Article
Environmental Sustainability Analysis of Case Studies of Agriculture Residue Exploitation
Sustainability 2021, 13(7), 3990; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13073990 - 02 Apr 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 707
Abstract
The agriculture sector produces significant amounts of organic residues and the choice of the management strategy of these flows affects the environmental sustainability of the sector. The scientific literature is rich with innovative processes for the production of bio-based products (BBP) from agriculture [...] Read more.
The agriculture sector produces significant amounts of organic residues and the choice of the management strategy of these flows affects the environmental sustainability of the sector. The scientific literature is rich with innovative processes for the production of bio-based products (BBP) from agriculture residues, aimed at the implementation of circular economy principles. Based on literature data, the present paper performed a life cycle assessment and assessed the environmental sustainability of five processes for the exploitation of rice and wheat straw, tomato pomace, and orange peel. The analysis identified as significant issues the high energy demand and the use of high impact organic solvent. The comparison of BBP with conventional products showed higher environmental loads for the innovative processes that used organic residues (except for rice straw case). The obtained results do not want to discourage the circular strategy in the agriculture sector, but rather to draw the attention of all stakeholders to the environmental sustainability aspects, focusing on the necessity to decrease the electricity demand and identify ecological agents to use in BBP manufacturing, in agreement with the most recent European policies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Circular Economy Challenge: Towards a Sustainable Development)
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Article
Life Cycle Assessment of Electrodialytic Technologies to Recover Raw Materials from Mine Tailings
Sustainability 2021, 13(7), 3915; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13073915 - 01 Apr 2021
Viewed by 708
Abstract
Currently, the development of new sustainable technologies to recover raw materials from secondary resources has shown a lack of available data on the processes and supplies involved, as well as their environmental impacts. The present research has conducted a life cycle assessment of [...] Read more.
Currently, the development of new sustainable technologies to recover raw materials from secondary resources has shown a lack of available data on the processes and supplies involved, as well as their environmental impacts. The present research has conducted a life cycle assessment of electrodialytic (ED) technologies to improve critical raw materials recovery in the Portuguese mining industry. To critically appraise the activities from the mining sector and gather data on technical and environmental issues, three waste management scenarios were considered: (1) ED treatment with a deep eutectic solvent as an adjuvant; (2) ED treatment with simultaneous H2 recovery; and (3) ED treatment with sodium chloride as an enhancement. The data presented were based on global databases, technical reports from official sources, and peer-reviewed published experimental outcomes. The estimated results indicated that one of the constraints in applying ED technologies is energy consumption and thus the impacts are highly dependent on energy source choices. On the other hand, as a consequence of the H2 inherently produced by ED technologies, there is a direct potential for energy recovery. Therefore, considering an upscale approach of the ED reactor based on bench scale experimental results, the H2 could be reused in the ED facility or stored. Additionally, according to experimental data, 22% of the tungsten from the fine mine tailings could be recovered. Finally, the possibility to remove 63% of arsenic from mine tailings could decrease contamination risks while creating additional marketable co-products. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Circular Economy Challenge: Towards a Sustainable Development)
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Article
Biotechnology for Metal Recovery from End-of-Life Printed Circuit Boards with Aspergillus niger
Sustainability 2020, 12(16), 6482; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12166482 - 11 Aug 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 860
Abstract
The growing production and use of electric and electronic components has led to higher rates of metal consumption and waste generation. To solve this double criticality, the old linear management method (in which a product becomes waste to dispose), has evolved towards a [...] Read more.
The growing production and use of electric and electronic components has led to higher rates of metal consumption and waste generation. To solve this double criticality, the old linear management method (in which a product becomes waste to dispose), has evolved towards a circular approach. Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are the brains of many electronic devices. At the end of their life, this equipment represents a valuable scrap for the content of base metals such as Cu and Zn (25 and 2 wt %, respectively) and precious metals such as Au, Ag, and Pd (250, 1000, and 110 ppm, respectively). Recently, biotechnological approaches have gained increasing prominence in PCB exploitation since they can be more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly than the chemical techniques. In this context, the present paper describes a sustainable process which uses the fungal strain Aspergillus niger for Cu and Zn extraction from PCBs. The best conditions identified were PCB addition after 14 days, Fe3+ as oxidant agent, and a pulp density of 2.5% (w/v). Extraction efficiencies of 60% and 40% for Cu and Zn, respectively, were achieved after 21 days of fermentation. The ecodesign of the process was further enhanced by using milk whey as substrate for the fungal growth and the consequent citric acid production, which was selected as a bioleaching agent. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Circular Economy Challenge: Towards a Sustainable Development)
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