What Is the Circular Economy?

It's the framework for a restorative economy, that meets the needs of modern society while respecting the natural limits of the planet.

There are 3 primary tenets of a circular economy...

Restorative

adjectives: 

defined: 

corrective, remedial, recuperative

having the ability to restore health, strength or a feeling of well-being. 

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1)

Design Waste Out of Our Products and Services

Waste is largely a result of poorly designed products. One of the many challenges facing the recycling industry today is the un-recyclable nature of the materials it collects.  Products and systems need to be designed for reuse, recycling or refurbishment so we can maintain the resources that make them up.  

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A good way to envision the circular economy, is to compare it to the linear economy of the 20th century... 

Prior to the industrial revolution - when blood, sweat and tears were the engines that drove manufacturing; natural resources seemed inexhaustible.  

 

But the industrial revolution changed that; as our technologies advanced and our economies developed - our capacity to create exploded.  This was great for humans but not so much for everything else.

All the resources we used and the stuff we made only moved in one direction - towards a shallow grave.  This creates pollution, contributes to climate change and destroys our limited supply of natural resources.

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Pink Parallel Lines

The Linear Economy

Take

Make

Waste

After a couple decades of exponential growth, our seemingly endless supply of natural resources is starting to show its limits.  With a global population of 7.6 billion, another 2.2 billion people expected by 2050 and an ever-growing middle class of consumers - its clear that the take-make-waste mentality established during the industrial revolution is not going to cut it for the 21st century.

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Instead of deciding how to reuse stuff after its been manufactured and consumed - reuse and recovery are built into our products & services from the very beginning.  

The circular economy is regenerative by design.  Systems of sharing, reuse, refurbishment and recycling keep man-made, technical nutrients like plastics separate from natural, biological nutrients like food.   

But In A Circular Economy . . . 

The things we make are designed to go through multiple cycles of reuse.
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Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Countless examples of circularity can be found in nature

The leaf is an essential “product” of the forest. It’s flat and thin composition make it perfect for absorbing sunlight that it converts into energy for its tree (aka photosynthesis).  This process also happens to convert CO2 to oxygen, which makes it possible for humans to breath.  Leaves also make shade, catch water and serve any number of other organisms in their ecosystem as food, shelter, camouflage and more.   Eventually, all leaves expire and fall to the ground towards the end of every summer.  But, they don’t become waste.  Instead of polluting its ecosystem, leaves are designed to re-integrate into it. First,  small organisms known as nature’s unsung heroes of recycling like beetles & earthworms; then fungi and mold break down the leaf into smaller and smaller components until it reaches a state that can be fully reabsorbed by the surrounding ecosystem.  All without the need to be packaged, shipped or disposed of at any point in its existence.    

Circular Business Models

Think about that... a single item that cycles through numerous different uses, then gets broken down and safely returned to a naturally occurring cycle of resources.

That is the essence of a Circular Economy

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Nature shows us that its possible to consume resources without destroying them. But how can we apply these lessons to society in a way that prevents pollution, creates less waste and keeps the economy humming?   

By changing the way we do business is a good place to start... 

Circular business models look beyond the end-user of their products.  The customer isn't the end of the line, but rather a stop along the way in a closed loop system of resource management.  A circular economy incorporates systems of sharing, refurbishing, reusing and recycling to maximize the value of our limited resources by ensuring they're used to their full potential.

Product As A Service

In the product as a service model, the customer isn't buying a product but rather paying for the service that the product provides.  This model helps companies to build long term relationships instead of individual sales and allows them to recover residual value at the end of their products' life cycles.   Check out Phillips "lighting as a service" for a good example of this model.

Leaves

Better for business... Better for you

Buying from companies that take part in the circular economy not only builds a more sustainable planet - it provides healthier products at a better value. Circular Business Models come in all shapes and sizes - and as you become more familiar with them, you'll start to find their advantages do too . . .  

Buy-back programs, durable designs and material redemption models allow customers to find residual value in their products even after they're no longer needed

Service contract and leasing models reduce and even eliminate upfront purchase and installation costs for large items like appliances and vehicles. 

Companies that find innovative ways to reduce or even eliminate their products' packaging are able to pass the cost savings on to their customers.

For circular systems to work, the use of adhesive, dye and other chemical agents needs to be minimized.  This means more natural materials and less off gassing chemicals.  

Sharing and renting platforms let you pay for products only when you actually need them, instead of paying full price for something that you rarely use

Read more about companies that can help you live more circular