Tuesday 26th January 2016
The term ‘circular economy’ is being used a lot now, but what exactly does it mean? The idea of an economy being circular is a fairly new one, and perhaps the best way to explain exactly what we mean by circular economy is to compare it to our current linear economy.
In a linear economy, we take resources from the planet, turn them into products and then we dispose of these products after use. This may seem an efficient way to operate, but when you consider how scarce many of our finite natural resources are, you begin to see just how irresponsible and unsustainable the linear approach is.
So, let’s think circular. A circular economy is an alternative to our current strategy of take, make and dispose. The idea is that we ‘close the loop’ keeping resources in use for as long as possible. We extract the maximum that we can from them while they are still in use and then recover and regenerate all feasible materials at the end of product life.
This circular approach is a potential solution to the planet’s emerging resource shortages. The circular economy goes beyond recycling, meaning products will be designed with end of life disposal in mind. Every aspect of a product’s conception and construction will be designed to be able to be broken down, reused and recovered at the end of the products life. At the moment, as much as 90% of the raw materials used to manufacture a product are destined to become waste. The goal with the circular economy is not just to design for better end of life recovery but also to minimise energy use.
Forget the environment for a second. Financially, the circular economy makes sense too. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, shifting towards circularity could add $1 trillion to the global economy by 2025 and create 100,000 jobs over the next five years, with manufacturers being the first to benefit as their reliance on expensive finite materials would be reduced.
The way in which we operate as consumers is set to change too under a circular economy. Imagine we didn’t buy goods but we entered into contracts with manufacturers much like we do our mobile phones. We would rent out our washing machines, cars or even clothes from the manufacturer and then when we were finished using their products they would be collected, again by the manufacturer for reprocessing. Thisway valuable raw materials would never be lost, they would be responsibly broken down only to rise again as a new product.
The EU has realised that the circular approach offers an opportunity to reinvent our economy, making it more sustainable and competitive. To reflect this, they released ‘The Circular Economy Package’ on the 2nd December 2015 designed to help businesses and consumers’ make the transition to a stronger more circular economy where resources are used in a more sustainable way.
The circular economy is a highly ambitious concept and it is clear going forward that we as consumers will have to drastically change the way we make purchases, view waste and think about the way we manufacture products as a whole. But, who among us can really argue with the idea of an economy in which materials are efficiently managed and recycled, is run on renewable energy and has little or no negative effects on human life or the ecosystem?
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