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Thematic course 1: Materials and Circular Economy


Admission requirements

This course is obligatory for students of the MSc Governance of Sustainability.


The extraction of raw materials from the natural environment is one of the most impactful anthropogenic activities. It not only causes damage to ecosystems and human health; it is also linked to water and energy use. A transition to a more Circular Economy (CE) may help solve this issue. In a circular economy the need for virgin materials is dramatically reduced by introducing known concepts like re-use and recycling as well as new concepts like the service-economy and closed-loop business models. In this course we will analyse the basic concepts of a Circular Economy and the role of public institutions and policy in the transition towards it.

The course addresses questions such as “What are key material flows within the metabolism of society?” “What are the main sources of raw materials?” “What is the difference between re-use, recycling and urban mining?” “What are the key characteristics of closed-loop business models and the service economy?” “What are the main (governance) challenges of implementing a circular economy?” “How do societal needs, market dynamics and public policymaking interact in the circular economy domain?” “How can we design policies that can be effective?” “What role does evidence play in policy making?”

The Policy Cycle is used in this course as a framework for analysing the realization of the CE. We first get acquainted with the concepts of government, governance, public policy, which are necessary to understand policy making processes. We explore who is acting in the public domain, including both state and non-state actors. By discussing various models of agenda setting, we move from policy problem definition to complicated theories which unite the concepts of actors, ideas and institutions, and explain why some problems get the attention in the policy making machine while others remain untouched. We will unpack how different countries view and design CE policies, what policy tools are possible and what are the trade-offs We will also delve into the nuances of using evidence in policy making and discuss the potential of stakeholder engagement to improve policy output.

Throughout the course, the framework of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to make a distinction between different circular economy strategies is used. We first introduce concepts as industrial ecology, societal metabolism and critically reflect upon the foundations of the Circular Economy ideas of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. We subsequently follow our course with an analysis of current material use and the drivers behind material use. End-of-life waste management and recycling options and their international context are examined. Specific attention will be paid to methods and tools that allow us to examine the (international) supply chain products showing us how consumption in Europe may lead to environmental and societal problems in other parts of the world. Important data sources on material flows, waste generation, recycling and how the collection of these data is institutionalized gives a foundation for any further research in this area. In the second half of the lectures, you learn how different business models and product design may help transition a society towards a more circular economy including barriers that may hinder this transition.

Course objectives

After completing this course, you will be able to:

  • Can critically evaluate the principal concepts of a CE

  • Can apply concepts of reduce, re-use, recycling, the service economy and closed loop business models

  • Can evaluate technical and socio-economic implementation challenges of a transition to a CE

  • Can explain the socio-economic drivers for this transition (e.g., policy goals and measures, scarcity, security of supply, certification, etc.)

  • Can measure the metabolism of society based on existing data sources.

  • Can critically evaluate each of the phases of the CE policy process cycle

  • Can appraise the intricacy of the environmental sustainability challenges for the policy making

  • Can assess what is required for effective evidence-based policy making

  • Can design a coherent CE policy action plan for a specific stakeholder


You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have successfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go the 'help-page' in MyTimetable. Please note: Joint Degree students Leiden/Delft have to merge their two different timetables into one. This video explains how to do this.

Mode of instruction

The course will be taught using a combination of lectures, working groups and an integrated group assignment.

The lectures will address topics such as resource use, recycling and urban mining, and the governance and policy making processes. It introduces tools for the analysis of materials flows within society such as material flows accounting, input-output analysis and life cycle assessment. We will discuss the possible impacts the transition to a circular economy will have on materials flows and extraction of raw materials and the governance role in designing policies that can benefit CE. We also analyze the limitations of the CE, e.g. is recycling a good idea if it requires a significant amount of energy?

The working groups are used to work on individual exercises. Exercises include analysing case studies, reflecting upon these case studies, comparing and contrasting different regions. Using (online) analytical tools are also part of the individual exercises. In addition, students engage in a role play based on assigned roles that are relevant to the implementation of a CE. Attending the working groups is mandatory.

Parallel to the lectures and working groups throughout the course, students will work in small groups in a transdisciplinary setting on specific topics linked to governance of the circular economy. Real-life challenges will allow students to integrate the acquired knowledge and understanding from lectures and working groups.

Assessment method

The grading consists of an individual written exam (50%), and the integrated group assignment comprised of two components: technical report (25%) and policy action plan (25%). Students are assigned to different groups for each component of the integrated group assignment.

At least 5.5 grade must be received for the exam and the integrated group assignment to be able to successfully complete this course. This means the following:

  • There is no compensation between the grade for the exam and the grade for the integrated group assignment.

  • There is a compensation between the elements of the integrated group assignment. This means that the average grade for the technical report and the policy action plan has to be at least 5.5 to pass the integrated group assignment part of this course.

Retake policy:

In case the exam grade is lower than 5.5 there will be an opportunity to retake the exam in the first semester. Please see MyTimetable and Brightspace page for more information.

In case the average grade for the technical report and the policy action plan (i.e. the grade for the integrated group assignment) is lower than 5.5 there will be an additional assignment. Please see MyTimetable and Brightspace for more information.

In case the retakes do not amount to at least 5.5 grade for the exam or the integrated group assignment, students can request by the Board of Examiners to take their partial grades to the next academic year.

Reading list

See Brightspace.


Every student of all years must enroll via MyStudyMap.

In this short video, you will see step by step how to enroll in courses in MyStudyMap. Note that your enrollment is only completed when you submit your course planning in the 'Ready for enrollment' tab by clicking 'submit'.

There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to register for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam. Keep in mind that there are enrollment deadlines, see this page for more information.

Extensive FAQ on MyStudymap can be found here.


Coordinator(s): A. de Koning and Dr. E.V. Bondarouk


MSc Governance of Sustainabilty students can register for the course and exam via uSis. Other students need to contact the study advisors of the programme via