What is the Circular Economy?
Circular is the new buzzword in sustainability circles. The circular economy is best described as the antidote to traditional linear production models that relies on ‘take, make, waste’ exploitation of resources without consequence for the aftermath. The linear economy is literally unsustainable, it cannot be maintained because we are consuming resources that will run out or cannot replenish themselves to keep up with us.
A circular economy aims to maintain the value of products, materials and resources for as long as possible by returning them into the product cycle at the end of their use, while minimising the generation of waste. The fewer products we discard, the less materials we extract, the better for our environment.
This process starts at the very beginning of a product’s lifecycle: smart product design and production processes can help save resources, avoid inefficient waste management and create new business opportunities. Source: Eurostat
The circular economy, as described by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is based on the Earth’s natural ecosystems; there is no landfill in nature after all! Flora and fauna alike live, die, decompose and the cycle begins again, with no waste.
What does a circular system look like for business?
Circular business means re-designing from the ground up. It means adopting manufacturing processes that eliminate waste and take into account the component’s end-of-life. It means careful consideration of the life cycle of products.. Reuse and repair is a consumer right which extends the life of products. At the end of a product’s useful life, it is dismantled responsibly to its component parts which are reprocessed to become new items. There is no waste here. Cradle-to-cradle design is another term used to describe the cyclical system, as opposed to cradle-to-grave where the end-of-life of products is disregarded.
In the circular economy there are two main types of materials, biological and technical. Biological materials are those which can at the end of their lives return to nature and decompose without harm. Technical materials are those, such as plastics and metal, which cannot return to nature. We also of course want to keep those valuable materials in circulation.
The Circular Economy connects the dots
The circular economy connects lots of the topics inherent to sustainability. For instance, the use of fossil fuels for energy is inherently linear because they are non-renewable resources. This is aside from their damaging greenhouse gas emissions. Waste is designed out of the circular model, plastics are renewable, single use plastics are a thing of the past, supply chains are transformed, energy use becomes renewable, lease or rental is extended to consumer goods .
The Circular Economy is the only viable business model for the future
Current climate discourse might be centred on how we can do less harm to mitigate the effects of climate change. But with good design a circular economy can regenerate systems and actually do good. In addition, modelling suggests that the EU could reduce its carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 through implementing the circular economy in full. This is a business opportunity for innovation, job creation and reduced raw material costs.
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