I’m embarrassed to say that until recently, I had never heard of the Circular Economy. Since then I’ve started an online course, ordered books, read articles, watched videos and listened to podcasts. I have also spoken about it to anyone and everyone who will listen and, guess what? There was no need to be embarrassed. Despite the fact that it is the way the future must progress if our planet is to support the growing population and consequent demand for raw materials without sacrificing the earth’s climate, it is far from an everyday concept. This post aims to give you an introduction into this exciting transition, and hopes to make you ask the question, ‘how can I be a part of the change’?
So what is the Circular Economy?
The easiest way to understand this is to compare it to our current economy, the linear economy: take, make, use, dispose. Resources are used to make products then these products are used until they are discarded as waste.
As the economy grows, more raw materials for the production of goods are needed and more waste is produced. With an economy that is small in comparison to our natural ecosystem this isn’t a problem, however our economies have become so large that we must question the wisdom of extracting ever more raw materials and dumping more and more waste. The linear model is just not sustainable.
In contrast, the Circular Economy aims to radically limit the extraction of raw materials and the production of waste. It does this by recovering and reusing as many of the products and materials as possible, in a systemic way, over and over again. The Circular Economy is a “make/remake – use/reuse” economy.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation have made a snappy 2 minute video that gives a great introduction to what it’s about, it’s worth a listen and watch:
The change from linear to circular
Shifting the system involves everyone and everything: governments, businesses, and individuals; our cities, our products, and our jobs. No single entity can make this happen on its own. It is now capturing the attention of CEOs, politicians, engineers, designers and the next generation of leaders, likely because the case for shifting to a circular economy is not just good for the environment, but good for a business’ bottom line.
By saving and reducing resources, the circular economy also saves money. The World Economic Forum has forecast that the circular economy will contribute $1 trillion per annum globally by 2025. 500,000 jobs are created by the recycling industry in the EU alone, and a shift to an innovative circular economy reusing, remanufacturing and recycling products could lead to further significant job creation.
Circular business models are evolving as leading companies drive innovation across product design, development of product-to-service approaches and new materials recovery methods. One example of these is POW UK’s clothing merchandise supplier, Teemill, who have an amazing circular economy business model in place, creating new products from old.
It’s not just clothing. Companies across industries, and of all sizes, are embracing the circular economy. From huge companies like Canon, embracing a circular approach to their printer cartridges, and Timberland, turning car tyres in to shoes, to smaller companies that you may not have come across like Toast Ale, turning surplus bread in to beer! There are also examples of packaging (avani), tyres (Enso), nappy (gdiapers), and even headphone (Gerrard) companies all using this approach. Oh, and did you know that packaging that is not only biodegradable but is edible now exists? Very cool. Check out notpla for more information.
The work required
Although this list doesn’t begin to scrape the surface of companies joining this revolution, significant work is still required to accelerate the change from a circular to linear economy. However, It is now not the knowledge and understanding of the issue, rather the co-operation and implementation required to overcome it that is needed, specifically:
Leadership on a local, national and global level
- Co-ordinated global action.
- Government strategy at a national level including roadmaps and action plans.
- City led projects – as more people move into cities, cities grow and produce more and more waste. These projects present a huge opportunity.
The Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) brings together leaders from both the public and private sectors in an effort to encourage and facilitate this and now comprises more than 50 active CEO’s, NGO leaders and government ministers from across the globe.
Businesses, and those who fund them, also need to start thinking differently.
Collaboration with different departments is needed, product design reconsidered and business models re-evaluated to firmly embed this new model within companies. Organisations need to understand what works best for their unique situation and commitment from the top to facilitate a change in culture is necessary if they are to succeed.
We all need to play our part.
Learn more, raise awareness within your organisation, talk to your friends and family about it. Make conscious purchasing decisions – support businesses who are promoting and embracing Circular Economy principles whether it be food, packaging, technology or fashion.
Facing the climate crisis has presented us with a huge opportunity to reset the world economy. Together with renewable energy and energy efficiency, the circular economy paves the way to help us pursue low carbon growth. It’s an exciting prospect that can exist alongside nature, learning from it.
Want to learn more? There is so much information out there, that it can seem quite overwhelming. A great place to start with very digestible reading material, podcasts and a youtube channel is the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (yes, the world record breaking yaughtswoman). The website is full of really interesting and informative resources for individuals, businesses and teachers. The foundation works with business, government and academia to build a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design. Inspired to take action? Check out the blue run on the POW UK mountain and start the conversation.