Life Cycle Thinking as a Legal Tool: A Codex Rerum

Rosalind Malcolm
Environmental Regulatory Research Group,
School of Law, University of Surrey,
Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH, UK


Plastic products and the waste they generate have drawn the attention of the public and the media of late.  But the problem of plastics waste is not isolated and is part of a larger phenomenon surrounding the way we produce and consume goods. The challenge is to retain the undoubted benefits of many products, including those made from plastics, while turning waste generated into a valuable resource to be retained within an economy where objects at the end of their life are treated as a resource – a circular economy. This article argues for the extension of a regulatory approach based on life cycle thinking which addresses the environmental impacts of products throughout their lifetime.  Proponents of the life cycle approach rarely consider the legal implications of embodying it in regulatory frameworks.  But this article argues that it is necessary to establish an effective regulatory approach both to ensure integration of environmental questions into every aspect of product development, including the use of plastics, and to achieve harmonisation and standardisation, commonalities where appropriate, leading to an efficient and effective approach to regulation. The ultimate concern is to achieve a system which is entirely harmonised with the needs of the environment; where an effective synthesis of economic, social and environmental factors is reflected in the means and manner of production, product life management and the behavioural aspects of consumption. This requires a fundamentally different legislative approach which addresses all phases of the life cycle from all dimensions – integrating process and product controls.  Such a regulatory approach, requiring a Product Impact Assessment as a mandatory tool, would have the effect of creating a context where waste ceases to exist as a concept being replaced by thinking which views all such ‘end-of-life’ materials as a resource.  This Product Impact Assessment, incorporating features such as longevity, durability and repairability as well as impacts, would underpin the drive towards a circular economy.  This article argues for such an approach to be based on a clear regulatory framework amounting to a law of things – a codex rerum.


Circular Economy, codex rerum, life cycle thinking, Product Impact Assessment, products.             LEAD Journal - ISSN 1746-5893