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University of Maine researchers: Circular economy concepts may be overlooking environmental justice

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Photo Illustration: Shaun Lucas/Industry Dive; Getty Images As more nonprofits, municipalities, public agencies and businesses begin planning for and investing in circular economy projects, where does social and environmental justice fit into the vision?

A team of University of Maine researchers asked that question in a recent study , “Just By Design,” where they documented language used in about two dozen circular economy reports from 2018 through 2020 to get a better understanding of how the plans discussed — or omitted — concepts of justice. They also conducted focus groups with stakeholders whose work involves the circular design of products, packaging or infrastructure.

Researchers found that many of the reports, which include reports from recycling industry groups as well as municipalities, nonprofits and businesses, argue the circular economy can address social or environmental justice issues through job creation or other economic solutions. However, many do not acknowledge longstanding racial, economic and social inequalities in U.S. society that may enable or perpetuate those issues. In one example, researchers highlighted how many reports tout job growth in its circular economy plans, but very few of the reports addressed whether such jobs would pay a living wage, described how jobs would be available to […]

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