The current economic model of manufacturing, followed by relatively short term use and then disposal is simply unsustainable. One idea to replace the current economic model is that of a circular economy.
This relatively new economic model places more focus on society-wide advantages that can be made from sustainable development by reducing, reusing and recycling materials.
What exactly is a Circular Economy?
A circular economy is an opportunity to rethink and redesign how products are made. It helps explore how a shift in perspectives can change the mechanics of the economy. It entails making products that can be “made” again and driving the systems of production and manufacturing with renewable energy.
The idea of a circular economy is rooted in history and features in many different schools of philosophy. The idea is similar to how things work in nature, where everything has a complete life cycle. In nature, nothing is wasted and there is no such thing as a landfill. All elements play a role continuously and are reused over and over again.
The mantra of reusing is also the main driving force in the circular economy. It proposes to minimise production to a bare minimum, and promotes the use of biodegradable materials in product manufacturing so they can return to nature without causing environmental damage at the end of their useful life cycle.
In the event that using biodegradable materials is not possible, the circular economy calls for a simple decoupling of materials to ensure that non-organic materials are given a new life in the production cycle and new useful products can be created from them.
Circular Economy is good for both Businesses and the Environment
Unlike other economic models where profitability is given priority over the sustainability and social and environmental benefits, the circular economy is different.
Companies that have adopted the circular economy are proving that it is cost-effective and good for the environment to reuse resources as opposed to harvesting new ones. By using this approach businesses are able to cut production costs and release new products at cheaper rates.
For the consumer, the circular economic model could not have come at a better time. Lower prices of commodities are helping to cushion them from the ever-rising cost of living.
From an environmental perspective, focus on the underlying notion of reusing and recycling helps to increase the utility of materials. As a result ecosystems such as forests and wetlands are not polluted by manufacturing and they can progressively regenerate more resources for future generations.
The main Principles of a Circular Economy
The design and operation of a circular economy is guided by a set of core principles:
Waste is turned into a resource: This is the principal feature of the circular economy. Its aim is ensuring that all biodegradable materials are safely returned into nature while non-biodegradables are recycled or reused.
Second use: It looks to reintroduce products that no longer match the original needs of the consumer back into the economy with a different purpose, giving them a new use.
Eco product design: Adopting and implementing eco, and life-cycle considerations into the design stage of new products.
Functionality: Reduce the turnover of new property and the need to manufacture as many products in the future. The idea is that people can share products by renting them only when needed, thus cutting down the environmental footprint.
Energy from renewable sources: The circular economy looks to remove the use of fossil fuels and promote renewable energy instead.
Cases of Successful Application of Circular Economy
Often people ask the question; “Will the circular economy manage to dislodge the current economic model?” The good thing is that this is already happening on a small scale as we speak. Here are some examples:
- Dell became the first electronic firm to utilise UL Environment-certified, closed-loop recycled plastics in computers. Reusing plastics that are already in circulation helps Dell to cut down on waste, reduce carbon emissions, save resources, and cut costs.
- Coca-Cola, Walmart, Johnson & Johnson, and Goldman Sachs brands followed Dell by launching a $100 million Closed Loop Fund to drive their development of advanced recycling infrastructure in different US cities.
- Philips entered into a strategic partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to launch a circular economy project to promote recycling activities.
- Corporate Eco-Forum partnered with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development to create a National Materials Marketplace that has attracted over 20 brands including Nike and Tetra Pak.
As more parties come to appreciate the finite nature of the globe’s resources, the desire to use them sustainably is growing. The concept of a cyclic economy demonstrates that there is a lot that can be done to maintain the health of our world without compromising our needs or those of the future generations.