Meeting Denmark’s needs with fewer materials

Denmark is already excelling in many areas of sustainability, positioning itself as an ambitious frontrunner in the race to net-zero. It already boasts mostly-renewable electricity generation, with targets to achieve 100% green electricity by 2027 and entirely renewable energy by 2050.

However, Denmark’s material consumption is more than three times higher than the estimated ‘sustainable’ level. Circular economy strategies can help the country reduce its material use by 39% and cut its carbon footprint by 42%, bringing it back within safe limits of the planet. The Circularity Gap Report Denmark shows possible ways forward.
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Denmark’s economy is only 4% circular

This is considerably lower than the Circularity Metric for the global economy, measured at 7.2% in 2023. This means that out of all the materials consumed only 4% make it back into the economy in the form of recycled materials.

But this doesn’t mean the other 96% of materials are wasted. Almost half of the materials in the Danish economy are locked into stock—from buildings and infrastructure to vehicles and machinery—and are unavailable for recycling for many years, while a further approximately 30% is renewable, carbon-neutral biomass.

Danes consume 24.5 tonnes of virgin materials per person per year

This is well above the EU average of 17.8 tonnes per person, and the global average of 12 tonnes per person. Moreover, this figure is more than three times higher than the estimated ‘sustainable’ level of consumption, 8 tonnes per capita. Denmark’s carbon footprint, at 11.1 tonnes per capita, also falls above the EU average of 9.5 tonnes per capita.
Circularity metric
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The construction sector is responsible for most of the footprints, accounting for 31% of the country's material footprint and 17% of its carbon footprint. This includes activities taking place both within and outside Denmark’s borders.


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Bridging the Circularity Gap

Our report explores five ‘what-if’ scenarios with key levers to boost circularity. Together, they can transform the economy, bumping the Circularity Metric from 4% to 7.6%. What’s more, the material footprint could be reduced by 39%, while the carbon footprint could decrease by 42%.

The road to circularity

Five pathways to double Denmark’s circularity
Build a circular built environment
  • Material footprint reduced by 19.2%.
  • Carbon footprint reduced by 11.9%.
The construction sector is the greatest contributor to Denmark’s material and carbon footprints, but it’s changing rapidly—sustainable buildings are now a priority. Adding circularity to the current energy efficiency focus will be crucial to limit the sector’s environmental impacts.

This can be done by, for example, meeting the demand for new buildings to a much higher extent with recycled and reused materials while capping the use of virgin ones. In addition, Denmark might shift to using more local, sustainable materials like wood and increase housing occupancy, co-housing and multifunctional buildings.
Embrace a circular lifestyle
  • Material footprint reduced by 9.1%.
  • Carbon footprint reduced by 10.8%.
The more people earn, the more they consume and discard. This is especially true for Denmark, which has one of the highest per capita municipal waste generation rates in Europe.

Denmark’s residents have the power to combat the overconsumption of resources—and the emissions linked to it—by simply buying fewer and better-quality items and engaging in more circular consumption models based on reusing, repairing, making and exchanging clothes and household items, for example. Businesses will have a role to play here in providing long-lasting, repairable and recyclable products.
Rethink transport and mobility
  • Material footprint reduced by 6.8%.
  • Carbon footprint reduced by 15.1%.
The use of private cars in Denmark is increasing: in 2021, they were chosen for 75% of passenger kilometres travelled.

However, this trend could be reversed by replacing private car travel with bicycles and e-bikes, and promoting walking and car sharing, especially in urban areas. The remaining vehicles should be electric and lightweight. On top of that, the transport system’s footprints could be diminished by reducing the need for travel, for example, by promoting working partly from home and local vacations.
Nurture a circular food system
  • Material footprint reduced by 6.0%.
  • Carbon footprint reduced by 8.0%.
Danish agricultural practices claim around 63.7% of the country’s land, putting it among Europe’s most intensively cultivated countries.

Measures to bolster circularity in the food system range from more sustainable, regenerative farming methods and technologies to shifting the dietary habits of Denmark's residents to more plant-based ones. A circular food system is also one where waste is minimised and soil health and biodiversity are enhanced.
Advance circular manufacturing
  • Material footprint reduced by 1.1%.
  • Carbon footprint reduced by 1.3%.
Denmark aims to have the world's first climate-neutral production industry by 2030. The circular economy aims to further this by reducing manufacturing's impact abroad. To achieve this goal, the country can implement resource-efficient, symbiotic manufacturing by taking advantage of its cutting-edge technologies.

For machinery, equipment and vehicles, we recommend employing R-strategies (remanufacturing, refurbishment, repair and reuse) to keep resources in the loop. What’s more, the market conditions should shift to allow business models incorporating R-strategies to compete with linear ones.


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The circular transition will be driven by work and workers

The Danish labour market has the power to accelerate the circular transition. Currently, 9.5% of jobs in Denmark contribute to the circular economy. To grow this share, the country may focus on increasing jobs in core circular sectors—waste management, repair or renewable energy, for example—while encouraging collaboration from enabling and indirect sectors.

Political action spurring the circular transition

Achieving a more circular economy requires more than technical solutions—and will require political action, such as creating a fit-for-purpose policy framework that prioritises and facilitates smarter material use. The government can also support and encourage businesses on their circular journeys as well as measure, monitor and evaluate progress to capture the entire circular economy.

The Circularity Gap Report Denmark guides the way.


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