Rebound effects may jeopardize the resource savings of circular consumption : evidence from household material footprints

Juudit Ottelin*, Hale Cetinay, Paul Behrens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Abstract

The circular economy model aims to reduce the consumption of virgin materials by increasing the time materials remain in use while transitioning economic activities to sectors with lower material intensities. Circular economy concepts have largely been focussed on the role of businesses and institutions, yet consumer changes can have a large impact. In a more circular economy consumers often become users—they purchase access to goods and services rather than physical products. Other consumer engagement includes purchasing renewable energy, recycling and using repair and maintenance services etc. However, there are few studies on whether consumers actually make these sorts of consumption choices at large scale, and what impacts arise from these choices on life-cycle material consumption. Here we examine what types of households exhibit circular consumption habits, and whether such habits are reflected in their material footprints. We link the Eurostat Household Budget Survey 2010 with a global input-output model and assess the material footprints of 189 800 households across 24 European countries, making the results highly generalizable in the European context. Our results reveal that different types of households (young, seniors, families etc) adopt different circular features in their consumption behaviour. Furthermore, we show that due to rebound effects, the circular consumption habits investigated have a weak connection to total material footprint. Our findings highlight the limitations of circular consumption in today’s economic systems, and the need for stronger policy incentives, such as shifting taxation from renewable resources and labour to non-renewable resources.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104044
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume15
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • Circular economy
  • Material footprint
  • Rebound
  • Sharing economy
  • Sustainable consumption

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