The Circular Economy
Let’s Address Circular Economies
What if waste was a far away concept? What if everything we use could simply be reused, upcycled, and drawn back into the loop? Let’s redesign, rethink, and rebuild everything we know from the ground up to make this linear mentality of take-make-waste unimaginable. Let's transform that line into a circle and design waste out of the system. That is what a circular economy proposes.
The idea goes that if we re-designed everything we use in our daily lives as something that is not disposable, we may have a chance not only at creating a better society, but also leveraging our innovative capacity to build rather than to destroy. A circular economy is one that aims at reducing the negative impacts of the linear economy by representing a systematic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits. The circular economy brings together different schools of thought such as biomimicry, cradle-to-cradle design, industrial ecology, natural capitalism and blue economy systems.
How to achieve it? The circular economy model is comprised of 4 main building blocks.
1. Circular Economy Design - It’s up to companies to design and build products that facilitate their reusing and recycling. For example, selecting the right materials and adopting a “design-to-last” approach are crucial factors of circular economy designs. What if instead of buying a refrigerator and throwing it away every time you needed a new one, you paid an annual fee to the service provider for repairs or to assemble you a new one? What if they took your old one, reused and upcycled its components and brought you a high-end cutting edge new one? For this to happen, circular economy design needs to be implemented in every single step of the way.
2. New Business Models - Innovative business models need to be leveraged in order to seize new opportunities. Profitable circular economy business models are possible; think about buying close to expiring food from the supermarket with a lower price, or renting clothes for a special occasion instead of owning them and then throwing them away. New and innovative business models serve to inspire other members of our economy to make a positive impact in our world.
3. Reverse Cycles - We need to create systems where the return of materials to the soil or into the industrial production system can be leveraged. We essentially need to decrease the leakage of materials that are in the system and encourage circular designs. By restructuring supply chains, chain logistics, sorting, risk management we can achieve cost-efficiency, better-quality collection and better treatment systems.
4. Enablers and favorable system conditions - Market systems will have to play a dominant role in order to achieve widespread reuse of materials and higher resource productivity. There needs to have a push from the policy makers, educational institutions and popular opinion leaders.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation applying circular economy principles "could unlock up to 1.8 trillion(Euro) of value for Europe's economy". It is time to roll up our sleeves, rethink, rebuild and create a better world not only for us but also for the future generations.
Businesses that are making strides into the Circular Economy Field:
Dell - In 2017 the company announced the expansion of its closed-loop recycled plastic supply chain and the introduction of reclaimed carbon fibre materials into some of its products.
Levi Straus - Every Levi store accepts old clothes and shoes of any brand, which the company collects and repurposes with its partner I:CO. Furthermore, Levi is also working to establish an infrastructure that support closed loop production for 2020.
Timberland - Timberland partnered with tire manufacturer and distributor Omni United to produce a line of tires that are meant to be recycled into footwear outsoles once they reach end-of-life on the road.
And this is just the beginning.
Nevertheless, one must keep in mind that with every solution arises new challenges. Critics of the circular economy argue that “recycling is down-cycling”, and that materials deter and loose value every time they are inserted back into the circular economy loop. As a consequence, the supply of recycled material (which is costly to produce in the first place) will not be meet by demand as a consequence of prices being too high and quality being too low compared to non-recycled materials.
As such the circular economy doesn’t present itself as the perfect solution, but rather leads the way towards a forever evolving sustainable economic model.
For more information on circular economy visit Ellen Macarthur foundation there is everything you need to know, from case studies to an entire comprehensive study on how to design out plastic from our environment!