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What is…a circular economy?

By Dru Haynes

15th June 2021

Simply put, ‘[t]he circular economy is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible.’


The aim is to redefine economic growth, to look beyond our current wasteful, extractive business model and focus on positive, society-wide benefits. Moving away from the use of finite resources and towards renewable energy and essentially designing waste out of the system.


This circular model builds economic, natural and social capital, based on three simple principles:

  1. Design waste and pollution out of the system
  2. Keep products and materials in use
  3. Regenerate our natural systems


Our current ‘linear’ economic model – using natural resources to produce new products which are then disposed of, polluting the environment - is unsustainable. The over-exploitation and degradation of our natural resources combined with the unmanageable levels of waste we are now creating pose grave risks not only to our health but that of our environment.


Circular economies rely on the natural cycle of life - products are designed to be long-lasting with materials for new products coming from reusing and recycling old products. When a product reaches the end of its life, its materials are kept within the economy wherever possible. These can be productively used again and again, thereby creating further value.


Hmm, all sounds a bit…‘hippie’


As the world's population grows so does the demand for raw materials, unfortunately, that supply is limited. And, at the same time as procuring and using these raw materials, the extraction processes themselves increase energy consumption and CO2 emissions. However, a move to the smarter use of raw materials combined with measures like waste reduction and prevention, eco-design and re-using/recycling could save companies money with the benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Added to this, you, as a consumer, get more durable and innovative products, increasing quality of life and saving you money in the long term.


OK, so can it work?


Amsterdam has launched its Circular 2020-2025 Strategy outlining the actions needed to halve the use of new raw materials by 2030 aiming to have a completely circular economy by 2050. Whilst the document recognises that the move is ‘fraught with uncertainty’, requiring experimentation, the acceptance of risk and the breaking old habits, by looking at the economy in a different way, consumers in Amsterdam will be using products longer as well as sharing and repairing them.


Although the benefits of these changes may not be noticeable immediately, moving to a circular economy could deliver the dual benefits of reducing pressure on the environment at the same time as increasing competitiveness and stimulating innovation which will boost economic growth.


‘[I]t represents a systemic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.’


Links:

https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/concept

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/circular-economy-package-policy-statement/circular-economy-package-policy-statement

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2016/573899/EPRS_BRI%282016%29573899_EN.pdf

https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-319-91971-3_8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCRKvDyyHmI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fF_H07BrJOE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ziw-wK03TSw