An introduction to the African Circular Economy Network

October 28, 2019

The African Circular Economy Network (ACEN) is a registered Non-Profit Organisation in South Africa. It is currently a virtual and pro-bono organisation made up of Circular Economy (CE) professionals / Country Representatives (CR) that form Country Chapters across Africa. ACEN’s vision is to build a restorative African economy that generates positive impact through new forms of economic production and consumption to unlock the rich potentials of the continent. Aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and global climate policy, it includes well-being for all its people,  economic prosperity and regeneration of environmental resources.


ACEN’s pillars to achieve this vision are:

  • Research carried out by scientific experts who are drawn from the network itself as well as from external academic partners.
  • Training of CE expertise through webinars held by ACEN members and partners.
  • Knowledge sharing via frequent newsletters, blog post and publications
  • Networking and events by hosting several stakeholder engagements to enable a global reach. ACEN is organising the 1st Pan-African CE conference, called “Africa Circular”, to be held in 2021 in collaboration with partners and supporters across Africa and Europe. This conference aims to raise awareness and create a strong momentum for CE action in Africa. It will bring together key stakeholders by showcasing best practices and will look to bring together policy-makers, business, academia as well as private and public funders.


Main challenges for the Circular Economy in Africa

Through constant population growth and prevailing linear production and consumption patterns, the pressure on resources and raw materials increases globally. While often perceived as a sole origin of primary resources and raw materials, Africa’s consumption of products using these raw materials and resources is also growing rapidly. Connected to this, Africa’s environmental footprint continues to increase due to economic growth and rapid urbanisation fuelled by a growth in population which is expected to double to around 2.5 billion by 2050 [World Resource Institute, 2019].

Even though the African continent has made progress in stabilising its economy and improving life quality standards within the last two decades, 60% of sub-Saharan Africans still experience a deprivation in human development. These include the adverse impacts of climate change, such as more frequent floods and droughts threatening the development progress and the ecosystem that more than 70 percent of Africans living in rural areas rely upon. [World Resource Institute, 2019]

Circular Economy provides a powerful narrative to design tailored solutions for multiple sectors in order to address and solve these challenges [Chatham House, 2017). This can boost local industries, the economy and employment, contribute further to human development and well-being, as well as ensuring the sustainable establishment of cities and regions.

Born out of necessity, Africa has been using circular principles for generations already. Many small-scale examples can be found in waste management (collection and recycling), manufacturing (industrial symbiosis, repair, reuse and refurbishment), and in agriculture. These represent future opportunities to maintain circular principles, increase their adoption at scale and develop new products and services. The map below, shows a selection of Circular Economy examples which currently exist in Africa.

However, beyond its national economy, Africa is also involved in global value chains, providing resources and products to multinational businesses from the Global North. As economies and policies evolve in both North and South, this requires caution and a thorough analysis of how decisions from the one side might affect the other. Currently there are still challenges as to how CE policies are legally approached and practically implemented in Africa. The EU has tended to adopt relatively concrete strategies; for example the Circular Economy Action Plan which identifies setting eco-design standards for electronic and electrical equipment, addressing hazardous chemicals in material cycles, and improving circularity of plastics, as priorities for Europe’s transition to CE. In comparison, African countries do not yet generally have comprehensive CE policies in place; often the focus is on developing green economies (UNEP Green Economy), addressing climate change mitigation or waste management; these will eventually feed into CE regulations but at different speeds. Proposals are often presented but are still awaiting promulgation into government policy. In Ghana, for instance, the lack of an enabling environment, including financial and other incentives, is a major constraint for the creation of CE, particularly for entrepreneurs to set up informal repair businesses.

Africa is at a crossroads; its economies are growing, but most countries are still on the verge of economic and urban transformation. This gives Africa enormous potential to overcome the example set by other continents, avoid any dangers of “linear lock-in” of certain industrial sectors to ensure (un)sustainable “business as usual” and develop instead in a more sustainable way on a legal, socio-economic and environmental level. This ‘leapfrogging’ can be enabled by close collaboration with the Global North by exchanging best practice and sharing lesson learnt across all value chains through the alignment of continental policy-making.

Working with Holland Circular Hotspot

ACEN is looking forward to working with Holland Circular Hotspot (HCH) to accelerate the transition to a CE across Africa. Both organisations have experiences in multi-stakeholder collaboration, sharing knowledge on CE and highlighting case studies where circular business models are put into practice in African countries.

Across Europe, Holland is, with its ambition to be 100% circular by 2050, the frontrunner in pushing forward to a Circular Economy. For both of us, Peter and Josefine, the collaboration and work with Dutch organisations (Metabolic and Circle Economy) and academic institutions (like the University of Amsterdam), have played a relevant role in deepening CE competencies and system thinking.

HCH represents a strong party to strengthen our networking pillar, in which knowledge and best practice from Europe and Africa will be exchanged, with stakeholders from different levels and sectors will be brought together. More specifically, from merging our networks and support each other’s activities, we expect practical and effective action steps. We believe in multiplying and accelerating our individual impact this way.


Examples of international collaboration

ACEN has partnered with many different organisations to share knowledge and develop / exchange case studies, including the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, ICLEI Africa, UN Environment Programme, RSA, EU CE Missions, Accenture, Green Alliance, European Environmental Bureau, to name a few.

With the first Pan-African conference, we are looking forward to bringing together our members, supporters and partners to expand our international collaborations; we are keen to see new forms of collaborations and action steps evolving. We also hope for new people and organisations becoming aware of and involved in joining us on the journey to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in Africa.

More information

Authors: Peter Desmond, Co-Founder, and Josefine Koehler, Co-ordinator, the African Circular Economy Network
Contact: via or at



Chatham House, 2017. A wider Circle? The circular economy in developing countries.

World Resource Institute, 2019. Africa.