Report: Identifying Circular Economy Business Opportunities on the Island of Ireland

This report explains the development of the circular economy on the island of Ireland, and the business opportunities it presents. Published: March 2024

Report cover featuring an image of green rolling hills with wind turbines against a blue sky.



This report examines the circular economy to identify key business opportunities and any obstacles to developing these. Research was conducted by International Synergies, a specialist consultancy with extensive experience in advising businesses and government on the uptake of circular economy principles.


What is the circular economy? Put simply, it is an economic model that replaces the linear ‘take-make-waste’ approach. Rather than dispose of waste, it identifies opportunities to keep waste material in circulation by repurposing it, often as a production input or replacement for virgin raw materials.

What does this mean in practice? Circular practices take many forms. Repair, reuse, redesign, repurposing, and recycling all keep products or materials in use for as long as possible. Upcycling old furniture, recycling paper, reusing food containers, using food waste as compost, sewing torn clothes, using excess heat from a manufacturing process to reduce energy consumption elsewhere, or using brewing waste as animal feed are all examples.

What are the benefits? In broad terms, circular economy approaches decrease demand for raw material extraction, processing, and consumption. In turn, this cuts waste (including landfill), drives efficiency and innovation, and reduces carbon emissions. It also extracts the maximum economic value from goods and services across their lifecycles.

Why is this important for businesses in Ireland and Northern Ireland? Both Ireland and Northern Ireland have ambitious targets of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, legislated for in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 and in the Climate Change Act (Northern Ireland) 2022. The circular economy will play a critical role in meeting these targets. Ireland has specific circular economy legislation, the Circular Economy and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2022, and a responsible minister of state. Northern Ireland has a Draft Circular Economy Strategy, which is yet to progress to legislation.

What is InterTradeIreland’s contribution? This research project provides an all-island overview of the circular economy, assessing how these policies and legislation have been implemented, where all-island and/or cross-border approaches could provide additional value, and identifying key opportunities for businesses.

Key Findings

  1. The circular economy impacts five major areas in both jurisdictions: resource efficiency, waste, skills, innovation, and climate change.
  2. The most significant contribution to carbon reduction targets will come from resource efficiency or from industrial symbiosis, the process by which waste from one production process is used as raw material for another process. With the exception of construction, waste from one sector is generally used in another sector and so a platform to match and exchange resources will be necessary to deliver the largest benefits via economies of scale.
  3. Although there is considerable overlap in policies, there are also significant differences, such as waste legislation. Outputs from many processes are classified as waste, which has to be disposed of in legally specified ways. This makes using them as inputs for another process more difficult. Different regulations in each jurisdiction also make it more difficult to realise the benefits of cross-border supply chains.
  4. Understanding of circular economy principles, benefits, and opportunities varies widely among SMEs and how these are presented makes a significant difference in how they are received. There is a clear need for an information campaign that focuses on practicalities.


Throughout the report specific opportunities have been identified for intervention to foster the circular economy across Ireland and Northern Ireland. The main recommendations are listed and explained in Part 4 of the full report.


Download a copy of the full report