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Circular Economy

NIST's Circular Economy Program supports the nation’s need to transition away from a model in which materials are extracted from the environment, manufactured into products, used, then discarded (a so-called “linear economy”) toward one in which the atoms and molecules that make up those products repeatedly cycle within the economy and retain their value.

What is the Circular Economy?
What is the Circular Economy?
How do we go from a throwaway economy to one where we minimize waste, prevent greenhouse gas emissions, and keep resources in the economy for as long as possible? With a circular economy. Learn more in this animation. For more information go to:

What is a circular economy?

Today, the American economy is mostly linear. We extract natural resources from the earth, process them, use them to manufacture goods, then use those goods and throw them into a landfill when we’re done. There are two key problems with this, one social and the other economic. On the social side, the linear economy destroys the environment, pollutes waterways, and emits greenhouse gases, which make our quality of life worse. On the economic side, when you throw something away, you're taking those resources out of the economy. Many products, like electronics, furniture, and food, are made of valuable parts that are lost when they're classified as "waste."

A circular economy, on the other hand, keeps those parts and materials inside of the economy. That way, when we’re finished using them, they can be disassembled and their individual parts can be used over and over again. Unlike the linear economy, a circular economy aims to eliminate waste entirely by designing products that are durable, reusable, repairable, and refurbishable using materials that can be recovered and recycled at the end-of-life stage. A circular economic model preserves natural resources, reduces the need for landfills, and advances social and environmental justice while creating value and new business opportunities.

Circular economy at NIST
Credit: B. Hayes/NIST

How does NIST help?

NIST's mission is to support the nation's economy and our quality of life. The circular economy improves both. Governments, industries, and consumers around the globe are working towards a more circular economy, but there are plenty of gaps that need to be addressed before we can effectively design out most waste. NIST is working with others to fill those gaps in the materials, data, and measurement science fields.

Organizations measure their impact on the environment with assessments that require NIST’s expertise in

  • new measurement science,
  • reference materials,
  • documentary standards,
  • data tools and infrastructure,
  • measurement support for decision making, and
  • informing policy and regulatory approaches.

Circular economy events

Upcoming events

Past events

The Circular Economy Resource Registry

The Circular Economy Resource Registry is a rich catalog for key circular economy distributed expert resources--organizations, datasets, and tools--determined to be highly relevant for Circular Economy analysis. In development. Coming 2024.


Circular Economy Workshops

The workshops below demonstrate NIST's leadership connecting stakeholders—from government and industry to academia, the financial sector...

Material Science

There's no silver bullet to creating a circular economy for all materials. Different material types have their own chemical compositions...

Research Areas

NIST is working on several research areas to support the transition to a circular economy. Data and Decision Tools Material Science...

Building Materials

Metrics and Tools for Sustainable Buildings Stakeholders in the building sector need practical information, data, metrics, and tools that...

News and Updates

Your Clothes Can Have an Afterlife

Only about 15% of used clothes and other textiles in the United States get reused or recycled. The other 85% head straight to the landfill or incinerator. This


Program Manager