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Governance of Materials and Circular Economy


Admission requirements

Students of the MSc Governance of Sustainability


The extraction of raw materials from natural resources 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) can 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?” “Which policies and regulations facilitate or hinder a circular economy transition?” “What are the main challenges of implementing a circular economy?” “Which public institutions play a role in the implementation process?” “How do societal needs, market dynamics and public policymaking interact in the circular economy domain?”

The Policy Cycle is used in this course as a framework for analysing the realization of the CE. The role of institutions and the development of policies for complex issue like CE will be analysed. Policies at different levels may hinder or facilitate the implementation of the CE. Local policies that support local sourcing of materials may stimulate the implementation of the CE while national and international regulations on transport and trade of waste flows may hinder it. EU-policies with regards to recyclability of products also play a role in the implementation of CE. We will compare the role of institutions and policies in different governmental settings. In this comparison, we focus on the institutional structure as well as the regulatory context and pre-existing policies that could support or delay CE implementation.

Learning goals

After comleting this course, you will be able to:

  • Understand the principal aspects of a CE

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

  • Have an overview of technical and socio-economic implementation challenges of a transition to a CE

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

  • Have the scientific understanding of the metabolism of society

  • Have a key understanding the role of institutions in policy-making related to the CE

  • Have a scientific understanding of the policy cycle model and how it can be used to analyse the policy processes

  • Have a key understanding of the Policy Cycle related to the CE in different governance systems

Teaching methods / 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. It introduces tools for the analysis of materials flows within society such as material flows accounting and input-output analysis. We will discuss the possible impacts the transition to a circular economy will have on materials flows and extraction of raw materials and the role of institutions in implementing this concept in different societies. We also analyse 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.

Type of assessments

The grading consists of a mid-term written exam, results from some of the practical assignments carried out in the working groups and the results from the integrated project group in the form of a technical report, presentation, discussion and policy document.

Course materials / reading list

See Brightspace.

Course load

Total coarse load: 336 hours
Attending lectures and seminars: 40 hours
Attending working group: 40 hours
Unsupervised working group: 40 hours
Preparing assignments working group: 80 hours
Independent group work (IGA) 100 hours
Self-study: 36 hours