Circular Economy Explained For Beginners: Everything You Need To Know
Are you looking to understand better and get involved with the green economy but not sure where to start? The circular economy is a concept that many are just beginning to explore. And I totally understand it can be a little confusing if you first hear about it. It’s a promising way for businesses and individuals to achieve a sustainable future.
- The circular economy is an economic system that aims to eliminate additional pollution and preserve natural resources by keeping them in use for as long as possible.
- The concept includes changes in the economic system and focus on closing loops.
This article provides an in-depth guide on what the concept of circular economics (in its most advocated form) is and how it could change in the future. We will also discuss how it works and how it can help us move away from traditional linear models of consumption, production, and waste disposal. So read on if you want to learn more about this approach.
What Is Circular Economy
Circular economy is an economic system that aims to eliminate additional pollution and preserve natural resources by keeping them in use for as long as possible. It’s a shift away from the traditional linear take-make-dispose model, characterized by resource extraction, manufacturing, consumption, and disposal of products. The circular economy recognizes that all resources used to make a product have value from both an economic and environmental perspective. This means instead of discarding products at the end of their life cycle, it is easier to repurpose or recycle them, into something else.
A key difference between a circular and linear economy is that all materials used in the production process are managed with greater efficiency in the former. It also encourages sustainability throughout the product’s whole life cycle – from design to production to use and reuse – so that less energy must be wasted in producing it, fewer raw materials are used, less water and air pollution is created, and fewer landfill deposits are made.
Instead, the circular economy also looks at how goods can be designed to be 100% recyclable or reusable when they reach their end-of-life stage. This is done by making sure components are either standardized or considered part of a modular system so they can be easily removed and reused elsewhere or turned into another product. Furthermore, consumers who buy goods within this system can also benefit from improved product life and repair options where possible.
Ultimately, the goal of creating a circular economy is for all people involved in it to benefit: businesses that can reduce their costs; consumers who get more value for money; governments that can create more sustainable growth; a society that will have additional resources available for further development; and nature which will experience lower amounts of emissions among other environmental benefits.
Ways To Achieve Circular Economy
To be in line with circular economy principles and to minimize the use of natural resources, a few principles are vital:
Most extended possible use through good design: products should be as resource-conserving, durable, repairable, modular, and dismountable as possible and designed and manufactured accordingly. Good choice of materials: Use as separable, safe, and recyclable as possible.
Sharing will result in less material consumption because not so many devices/machines/vehicles are needed (e.g., library, car sharing, renting sports equipment, lending tools or household appliances to neighbors)
Extending the span of a product through reusage. E.g., taking back and reusing glass bottles, passing on clothing or everyday items to friends and neighbors, or reselling them via online platforms or second-hand shops.
It also aims to improve the life cycle of products by making defective items work again, e.g., repairing washing machines or resoling shoes. However, this requires knowledge and infrastructure. Unfortunately, in today’s system, it is often cheaper to dispose of defective clothes or electronic devices rather than repair them.
Extend life: refurbish outdated and worn products or continue to use parts of them, e.g., reupholster office chair seat cushion, replace the battery, upgrade the laptop to the latest technology.
Why Is A Circular Economy Important?
Transitioning into a circular economy is essential today, as we currently face major environmental issues caused by overconsumption and wasteful production models. Every year, the world generates 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste, a huge proportion of it is electrical.
According to the World Bank, at least 33% of this waste is not managed in an environmentally safe manner and often ends up in the ocean or landfills, where it rots for decades, causing severe contamination of soil and water sources. This pollution has led to various problems, like microplastic floating around our oceans and rivers.
At the same time, population growth and a shortage of natural resources have forced us to rethink how we produce items and what happens with them afterward. It is worth noticing that humanity actually lived circularly for most of our existence. Things changed only with the industrial revolution. It marked a breaking point in the way how we dealt with issues like labor and the environment.
Instead, this new model focuses on reusing resources efficiently and recovering materials so they can be reused again instead of being discarded after one use. In addition to reducing environmental impact, this approach provides economic benefits by creating jobs and increasing efficiency in product manufacturing processes.
Ultimately, transitioning into a circular economy is essential because it will reduce our dependence on finite natural resources, minimize pollution levels associated with production processes, create economic benefits from efficient energy utilization and promote job creation.
Current Status And Limitations
While circular economy is a promising concept, there are also some difficulties and holdbacks of the concept at the current stage. Aside from practical problems, some global scientists are concerned about the definition of the circular economy. I will tell you more about it later, but here are what I believe are some of the main concerns at the moment.
Downcycling Is Still Very Common
There are many examples where the recycled material is not pure enough, and we can’t use it for the same original product. For example, recycled plastics are often repurposed for making clothes and carpets instead of producing new plastic products.
This downcycling process reduces the quality and value of materials while also increasing associated production costs. Currently, reprocessing a lot of natural resources is not possible or ineffective. Although downcycling is much better than the linear economy, it is technically not entirely circular and requires a constant supply of additional resources.
Main Stream Could Make Use More Dependant On Waste
Some leading scientists like Federico Savini from the University of Amsterdam are concerned that a circular economy can make the economy more dependent on waste instead of reducing consumption and waste. An economy that prospers, in monetary terms, out of the reuse of waste will make an end of waste hard to imagine.
Economic Players Are Struggling To Implement Radical Changes
Many established players may enjoy the concept of circular economy, but they struggle to implement the necessary changes and run from the natural consequences. I can only imagine it’s because these changes are inconvenient and require enormous investments. Companies must achieve annual growth and maintain profitability in our commercial system. Still, a growing number of people are questioning if this system is sustainable in the future or if a kind of system change is necessary.
Best Practice Examples Of Circular Economy
Circular Economy In Agriculture
One example of a region or company that has successfully transitioned to a circular economy model in the agriculture sector is Winnow, a London-based startup using AI and machine learning to reduce food waste. Running their operations in over 30 countries, Winnow works with some of the world’s largest retailers and catering companies, including Sodexo and Ikea, to help them monitor and measure food waste.
Through their innovative technology, they developed an easy way for chefs to weigh and input ingredients they use while cooking and track what was thrown away. This data is then analyzed to provide insights into how kitchens can be more efficient by identifying which dishes are wasting the most food. This information helps the kitchen staff identify patterns that lead to waste and make changes where necessary, such as ordering smaller quantities of ingredients or reformulating recipes.
Winnow’s mission is “to empower chefs worldwide with data so that they can create better menus and reduce food waste.” In addition to collecting data from its customers to provide valuable insights on reducing food waste, Winnow also partners with local organizations in certain countries (such as Germany) where it distributes surplus ingredients from commercial kitchens among local charities, homeless shelters, refugee centers, etc.
It provides them access to quality ingredients they would otherwise not have access to due to economic constraints. Moreover, Winnow constantly updates its platform based on customer feedback and industry trends to remain competitive in the market.
Circular Economy In Tourism
The Galapagos Islands, located off the coast of Ecuador, is one of the world’s most pristine and biodiverse regions. As such, it is an ideal model for a sustainable and circular economy. To achieve this, Ecotourism is a vital element on the islands to provide sustainable economic growth for the region and preserve the fragile environment.
The Galapagos Islands began transitioning to a circular economy by encouraging ecotourism as a form of income for locals living there. Tourists worldwide travel to the destination to appreciate and learn about its unique wildlife and landscapes while providing an economic benefit to islanders.
For example, tourism has supported local businesses such as restaurants, hotels, transportation services, tour guides, and souvenir shops -all of which help create jobs on the islands. Additionally, funds raised through tourist activities go to protecting natural resources such as coral reefs and mangroves that serve as essential nurseries for marine life.
In addition to generating income through ecotourism operations, local authorities have implemented strict regulations concerning environmental conservation on the islands. For instance, most lands are declared protected areas with strict rules prohibiting deforestation and pollution.
Furthermore, the authorities heavily regulate fishing practices to deplete fish stocks or harm marine life habitats. Additionally, they reduced plastic usage on the island, with bans in place for single-use plastics like bags and straws. These measures have successfully preserved ecosystems while promoting responsible tourism practices that benefit locals and visitors alike.
Circular Economy In Transportation
The French multinational company Stellantis is one of the most successful examples of transitioning to a circular economy model in the transportation sector. To achieve such a feat, the company focused on creating vehicles with components that are designed to be reused, repaired, and recycled. Their vision is for their vehicles to remain used for as long as possible, helping them extend the product’s overall life cycle.
To make this vision a reality, Stellantis Group has invested heavily in research and development to improve its products’ sustainability. They also strive to reduce energy consumption and emissions across their entire supply chain, from design and production all the way through to end-of-life management.
Additionally, they are committed to co-creating shared value with their partners by increasing resource usage efficiency throughout their production system.
To ensure proper recycling processes, PSA Group has adopted an integrated approach that includes innovative partnerships with suppliers who can provide recycled materials and end-of-life services that help correctly dispose of components so that they do not end up in landfills or harm local wildlife habitats.
They also collaborate with other businesses and organizations operating within the recycling industry–like car recyclers, electronics recyclers, and scrap processors–to guarantee that all recovered materials are appropriately utilized and optimized.
Future Of Circular Economy
Today’s policies focus mainly on closing lopes through innovation and technology, but they only rarely consider a change in the economic system. However, many scientists are evident if we don’t change our attitude and behavior and ecological catastrophe seems unavoidable.
At the end of the day, we as a society will have to decide how we want to combat climate change. If and how much we are willing and able to change.
However, I would like to terminate the article by introducing potential alternatives. I don’t know which alternative is best, people much more intelligent than me will have to think about it ultimately;)
Transformation Of Society
One such alternative is an economic model, which we call ‘productivism’. This system focuses on building social infrastructure and providing access to basic needs like housing, healthcare, education, food, and water for all members of society. Unlike capitalist models, which emphasize material accumulation, productivists use efficient technology to limit the need for further resource extraction from nature while still providing everyone with their needs.
Furthermore, productivism focuses on localized self-governance prompting active citizen participation in decision-making processes and promoting civil liberties such as freedom of expression and assembly. This decentralization allows citizens greater autonomy over their own lives leading to increased quality of life for all members of a community or society.
Another example of an alternative economic system is ‘distributism’, which seeks to empower the working class by sharing capital among the population rather than concentrating it on a few influential individuals or corporations. Under this system, property owners are spread out evenly amongst many individuals instead of allowing those at the top hoard resources while leaving others struggling with poverty or lack of opportunity.
Through well-developed cooperative systems like mutual aid networks or worker-owned businesses, those who are traditionally left behind under capitalism could be given access to much-needed resources that could improve their quality of life significantly whilst also preserving their independence and self-reliance, something that is often lacking in capitalist models where people are isolated from one another due to competition for scarce resources such as land or capital investments.
We are at the end of today’s article. I hope you found it helpful.