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Rethinking the concept of ownership in moving towards a circular economy
The concept of product stewardship calls for everyone involved in the manufacture, sale or use of the product to take responsibility for the end-of-life cycle management of the product. However, this expectation relies on the discretion of the parties involved, in the absence of governing mechanisms to track and regulate whether each party assumes their responsibility appropriately. At the same time, in a linear economic model the visible disintegration in the supply chain following the step of consumption, makes end-of-life management of products extremely challenging and inhibits recirculation of used products to industrial material cycles to recover their resources to realise an optimum value. Equally, considering the fact that parties who are involved in the supply chains of products, components, materials and resources sale and recovery are private operators who are driven by profit motive, the pathway to internalise the externalities in order to discourage less environmentally-friendly products poses several challenges in such a system. This paper discusses and critically analyses the use of different product service systems (PSS) as new business models in transiting to a circular economy. The paper analyses how the risks, rewards and accountability are associated with the concept of ownership and how these play a key role to influence product stewardship in a service-oriented product service systems (PSS). Further, this paper discusses innovative concepts around product, component, material and resource ownership, which would require industry and market restructuring, yet could play a pivotal role in transforming existing industry base to a circular economy. The paper also analyses their effectiveness considering risks and rewards to private operators who are party to the system and how such innovations could create better accountability contributing to product stewardship. The paper finally discusses how the proposed alternative product service systems bring better clarity in internalising externalities associated with products. This paper brings some issues associated with a linear economic model in to surface concerning how the concept of ownership is viewed in such. The discussion in this paper provides a useful foundation for critically rethinking how the concept of ownership needs to be organised around products, components, materials and resources in a circular economic model, looking at it holistically, with the objective of creating better accountability around impacts early-on in the supply chains.