Report on Barriers & Drivers for upcycling

  • Phil Churchman
  • 30/09/2020
Authorities Business support Research

To download the full study: See below.

This report provides a general insight in the “mindset” of entrepreneurs about circularity and waste reuse. This insight will be completed with an inventory on barriers & drivers amongst SMEs in the six pilot areas. This will help with learning which barriers in the project need to be overcome and which drivers can be used to accelerate the application of circular waste business cases in the pilot areas.

This report is the result of a scientific process to identify relevant research on barriers and enablers for upcycling at SMEs and provides a database for use by project partners and SMEs. It focuses on case examples, frameworks and analyses that provide insight into upcycling barriers and enablers and is an important knowledge base for our activities and outputs. It covers:

a) Regulatory context. Desk research of the EU and national rules and regulations governing SME waste management.;

b) Barriers and drivers for upcycling that SMEs experience or perceive, like awareness, knowledge, capacity, resources, operational barriers. The objective of this is: 

  • 1) to get an overview of the barriers & enablers that are already known in scientific research, based on existing sources;
  • 2) to get the actual barriers & enablers that SME’s are experiencing in their day by day working experience. For this, interviews with the SMEs in the 6 targeted business areas will be conducted to collect their input. 

The present report is the result of b1; being a scientific approach to map existing literature on barriers & enablers in SMEs. This inventory will be based on existing sources and incorporated into the overall report on the barriers & enablers and the inventory of the specific barrier, being the current legislation.


The number of times that barriers are listed is almost 4 time the number of times enablers are listed. In general, this could mean that the barriers are perceived as bigger and more important than the enablers. 

The fact that “social” is only seen as barrier subscribes to the idea that the majority of society has not yet or only partially embraced upcycling and reuse of resource. These same applies for “awareness”. This is mentioned as a barrier more often than as an enabler. 

It is striking that “Policy (government)/Vision (companies)” has an equal score. This could mean that having a policy or vision in place to back-up or support upcycling and reuse of resources is precondition to support this development. This outcome is backed up by the observation under 4.1 that companies are more likely to implement successful upcycling initiatives if sustainability is core to the company’s ethos.

“Business case” is mentioned 38 times as an enabler and at least 89 times as a barrier. From this could be derived that it is still very difficult to realise a business case when upcycling waste into a secondary resource and/or product. This is not surprising if we consider that society is still largely organized in a linear way. Circular business models are therefore often difficult to realize. However due to lacking awareness, companies could be lacking information about successful circular business cases and thus not being aware of the opportunities for themselves.

Themes and keywords categorized under “Legislation” are only mentioned as barrier. Given the fact that the values of today’s society are protected by legislation, it is not illogical that legislation is being regarded as a barrier. After all, the waste legislation is aimed at removing waste safely and quickly as possible and without harming humans. The recovery of waste is “contrary to” this.

The full study can be read and downloaded here: Final report literature research on B&D – UYW