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Sustainability & Circular Economy, What Is The Difference?

19.06.2023 8 min read

Sustainability & Circular Economy, What Is The Difference ?

The words sustainability and circular economy are often used interchangeably, suggesting that they are mutually exclusive. However, that is not always the case. In fact, there are several instances where a circular economy may not lead to environmental sustainability or vice versa. 

It is important to understand the difference between sustainability and circular economy, the concepts they entail, and, most importantly, what each stands for. Whether the former is often used on a macros scale coupled with commercial aspects, the latter may have micro and macro impacts alike. 

In this article, we will take a closer look at what the two concepts stand for, the difference between them, the policies they entail, and other important elements to help you understand their impact. 

Understanding Sustainability Better

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly crucial topic in our world today. It refers to the ability to maintain and preserve the natural resources and ecological balance of the planet for future generations. Sustainability is a multi-disciplinary approach that considers economic, social, and environmental aspects and aims to create a better future for all. 

The SDGs

The concept of sustainability has been widely recognized as a global challenge that requires collective efforts to address. Several key global policies have been developed to promote sustainable development in response to the pressing need for sustainability. One of the most prominent policies is the 17 goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which was adopted in 2015. 

The SDGs goals are designed to help fight against poverty, protect Earth, and ensure that everyone is able to lead a better life by 2030. These goals are interconnected and interdependent and address a range of challenges, such as:

● Inequality 

● Access to clean water, 

● Responsible consumption of material 

● Better production methods

● Sustainable cities and communities, and more. 

The Paris Agreement

Another key global policy is the Paris Agreement, which was signed by countries in 2016 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. 

The Paris Agreement requires countries to regularly report on their emissions and progress in reducing them. This is applicable to countries across the globe, including UAE and other Middle Eastern countries. In the UAE, these fall under the Green Economy principles for sustainable development.


The objectives of sustainability are numerous but can be broadly categorized into three main areas: 

Economic. Economic sustainability aims to ensure a steady supply of natural resources and to maintain the economic growth that is both inclusive and sustainable.

Social. Social sustainability focuses on improving the quality of life and reducing inequalities, and 

Environmental. Environmental sustainability seeks to preserve the natural resources of the planet and reduce the impacts of human activities on the environment.

This shows that sustainability is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires collective efforts to address – especially on a larger scale. 

Understanding The Circular Economy Better

The circular economy is a model that works towards ensuring that the resources are kept in use for as long as possible. This, in turn, allows us to get the most value from them before recovery. After recovery, the products and materials are regenerated to be used otherwise or by other people. 

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

In recent years, the concept of a Circular Economy has gained increased attention as a solution to the global challenges of resource depletion, waste, and climate change. Governments, businesses, and civil society organizations are exploring ways to transition to a more circular economic model to create a more sustainable and resilient future.

Key Global Policies:

European Union Circular Economy Package: This package of measures aims to promote resource efficiency and reduce waste in the EU. It includes targets for reducing the amount of waste generated and improving the recycling rate of specific waste streams.

●  China’s Circular Economy Promotion Law : This law aims to promote the development of a circular economy in China by establishing a legal framework for waste management, resource utilization, and environmental protection.

●  United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development : The Agenda includes a number of goals related to the Circular economy, including Goal 12 on responsible consumption and production and Goal 14 on life below water.

●  UAE’s Circular Economy Policy : Established in January 2021, the policy is decided to promote the environmental health of the Middle East as a whole, support the private sector in adopting better, more efficient production methods, and reduce natural environment stress via green development and recycling. 

Objectives of Circular Economy:

In general, the objectives of a circular economy are threefold:

●  To reduce waste and promote resource efficiency : By making sure that the resources are being used throughout their life – and further if possible. Once used, they can be restored to continue usage by you or someone else. This is how the Circular Economy model aims to reduce waste and promote resource efficiency.

●  To support sustainable economic growth : The Circular Economy model provides new opportunities for economic growth by creating new businesses, jobs, and products that are based on the principles of sustainability.

●  To tackle climate change : By reducing waste and promoting resource efficiency, the Circular Economy model helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change.

The Circular economy is a holistic and systemic approach to the economy that aims to create a more sustainable and resilient future. It is an important concept that can help us to address the global challenges of resource depletion, waste, and climate change and to build a more sustainable and resilient future.

Difference Between Sustainability & Circular Economy

As mentioned above, these terms are often used interchangeably yet are very distinct. The key differences include the following :




Circular Economy


Sustainability refers to the long-term viability of a particular system or process. It is a holistic approach to managing resources in a manner that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

A circular economy refers to an economic system in which resources are kept in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them before they are eventually returned to the natural environment.


Sustainability involves the use of resources in a responsible, efficient, and sustainable manner, reducing waste and minimizing negative impacts on the environment.

A circular economy is a practical approach to achieving sustainability by reducing waste, increasing efficiency, and protecting the environment.


In essence; sustainability is a broader concept that encompasses the circular economy. Its aim is to use the existing resources in the best possible ways.

The circular economy model aims to close the loop of resource use by designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.


Final Words

The concept of sustainability and circular economy aren’t mutually exclusive, yet they aren’t mutually disjointed either. Sustainability is a relatively broader term than a circular economy, which in turn means that to become fully sustainable, adopting a circular economy is paramount. 

RECAPP is a company dedicated to sustainability throughout the UAE. Hence, it offers impeccable recycling services, including pickup and drop-off solutions for recyclables. From paper all the way to hard and rusted metals, our goal is to help you create a better future for all. 

Check out our services and products today to learn more about how we can help! 

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