Accessibility statement

Law & Circular Economy - LAW00074M

« Back to module search

  • Department: The York Law School
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Sean Thomas
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

This module will consider various aspects of the legal implications of circular economy. Circular economy can be understood as a system of interconnected transactional loops. As opposed to linear economy (which operates on the basis of take-make-destroy), circular economy operates on the basic principle of maximising value and minimising waste at all stages of the consumption-creation process, through better design and greater reuse and recycling. There has been considerable interest in circular economy, with both UK and EU placing the concept at the centre of environmental and other policy grounds. The concept of circular economy is contested though, and will be explored in depth. Potential legal issues will be identified and examined, covering a range of (primarily) private law topics.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

This module will consider various aspects of law and circular economy. There will be a detailed examination of the foundational theories of circular economy, along with illustrative case-studies of circular economic practices. Reference will be made to a wide variety of academic and non-academic literature and sources. There will also be consideration of non-legal academic work, from fields such as geography, sociology, and management studies. The purpose of the course will be to identify, analyse, and evaluate the potential legal implications of moves to circular economy, from a range of (primarily) private law perspectives such as obligations, property law, and commercial law. There will also be consideration of the impact of modern, digital technologies such as blockchains and distributed ledger technologies, smart goods, and AI. Whether the English law will be capable of adjusting to, or even enhancing, circular economic practices will be a guiding theme throughout this module.

Module learning outcomes

- Demonstrate understanding of the principles, policies, theories and purposes of circular economy (MLO1);

- Identify, explain and critically evaluate academic, commercial, political, and other cognate perspectives on law and circular economy (MLO2);

- Examine critically the nature and impact of private law on circular economy practices (MLO3);

- Critically evaluate the impact of digitalisation on law and circular economy (MLO4);

Module content

The first part of the module will engage with the idea of circular economy, covering its academic antecedents and the recent expansion of interest in the idea. There will be examination of the current policy and legal positions and responses to circular economy, looking at the UK and EU responses in particular. There will also be a critical evaluation of circular economy, looking at problems such as the uncertain meaning of CE, the influence of corporate interests, and the role (or lack thereof) of environmentalism. Having this foundation enables a move to examining law and circular economy. There will be a focus on examining case studies drawing on a wide range of circular economy practices, with identification of legal issues with a primary (though not exclusive) focus on private law problems. There will also be detailed examination of circular economy and digitalisation, focusing on the control of information and the control of things, and how they will impact on circular economic practices and what legal responses may be required.


Task Length % of module mark
Law & Circular Economy Essay/Coursework 3000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Law & Circular Economy Essay/Coursework 3000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive regular feedback based on their contributions to seminars, and through peer and tutor review of outputs created for seminars. Formative assessments will be undertaken throughout the course, and may take the form of presentations, group work and/or individual written assessments. Oral and written feedback will be provided for formative assessments. Students will receive written feedback on their summative assessment output, within the timescale set by the University's Feedback Policy Turnaround Time policy. There will be a general "open-door" approach to further feedback and guidance during the module and following assessments should this be required by individual students. A discussion board will be operated via the VLE which will provide the opportunity for further feedback.

Indicative reading

Backes, C. (2017) Law for a Circular Economy Eleven International Publishing: The Hauge, <>.

Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2018) Our Waste, Our Resources: A Strategy for England <>.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2013) Towards the Circular Economy: Economic and Business Rationale for an Accelerated Transition <>.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2016) Intelligent Assets: Unlocking the circular economy potential <>.

European Commission (2017) Public Procurement for a Circular Economy: Good practice and guidance <>.

Gregson, N., Crang, M., Fuller, S., Holmes, H., (2015) “Interrogating the circular economy: The moral economy of resource recovery in the EU” Economy and Society 44, 218–243.

Hieminga, G. (2015) Rethinking Finance in a Circular Economy: Financial Implications of Circular Business Models <>.

Mak, V., Lujinovic, E., (2019) “Towards a Circular Economy in EU Consumer Markets – Legal Possibilities and Legal Challenges and the Dutch Example” Journal of European Consumer and Market Law 8(1), 4–13.

Maitre-Ekern, E., Dalhammar, C. (2019) “Towards a hierarchy of consumption behaviour in the circular economy” Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law 26(3), 394-420.

de Römph, T.J., Van Calster, G. (2018) “REACH in a circular economy: The obstacles for plastics recyclers and regulators” Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law 27(3), 267-277.

Thomas, S. (2019) “Law and the Circular Economy” Journal of Business Law 62-83.

Thomas, S. (2018) “Law, Smart Technology, and Circular Economy: All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace?” Law, Innovation & Technology 10(2), 230-265.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.