What is Circular Economy?
Our modern culture, even our patriotism, is built on a foundation of consumption. Consumption isn't going anywhere, but our survival depends on it undergoing a major overhaul. Circular economy is that overhaul.
While the industrial revolution and subsequent economic development enabled luxuries and comforts for the masses that formally only royalty could fathom, it has come at a massive cost to the environment, biodiversity and the delicate balance on which life as we know it depends.
To sustain our current rate of resource use we require almost 2 Earths - and if all of us were to live a lifestyle of an average American it would take 5 Earths to support the human population.
This is because in our current economy, we take materials from the Earth, make products from them, and eventually throw them away as waste – the process is linear.
In a circular economy, by contrast, we stop waste from being produced in the first place. Driven by design at its core, circular economy is the shifting of our current economies away from virgin materials (which are mined & extracted from the Earth) towards the resources and materials already in play. Existing materials become the core resource that enables the lives we live.
The circular economy is based on three, design driven principles.
Reduce - Design out waste and pollution Preserve - Circulate products and materials keeping raw materials in use and at their highest possible value Regenerate - nature must be restored
A circular economy decouples economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and the disruption to natural environments that this system has caused. It is a resilient system that is good for business, people and the environment.
While this can be applied in myriad ways, here are some examples to perk your interest:
Gerrad Street headphones: a startup based in the Netherlands, they offer headphones to customers as a subscription rather than a transactional purchase; with a guarantee that if the product is damaged or an upgrade is available the old ones will be are replaced. The design of their products is modular; meaning there is no need for glue and they are easy to disassemble, repair and add new hardware. The components are durable and standardised, so that up to 85% can be looped into new models.
See the video of Gerrad Street Headphones below:
Nudie Jeans: Free repairs for life! More than half of fast fashion is disposed off in less than one year. This Australian denim brand uses organic cotton and natural dyes to make their products, thereby reducing their environmental footprint, waste and pollution. They work with the notion that ‘throwawayʼ and ‘jeansʼ are two words that do not belong together. This philosophy is emulated through offering free repairs for life; along with collection, repair and resale of second hand jeans. Once the denims reach a point of no repair, they will take it back, repurpose it and offer you a discount on purchasing your next pair.
What would it take to make a pair of jeans circular, NOW? That is what is addressed here, with the Jeans Redesign project. Check it out:
Cities: Finally, what role does cities have to play in the circular economy? Well, look at this - cities consume 75% of natural resources, produce 80% of global greenhouse emissions and produce over 50% of global waste. Additionally, by 2050 its predicted that two thirds of the world's population will live in cities. Thus, they are a driving force of the problem AND the solution. Building a circular economy in cities can bring tremendous economic, social, and environmental benefits. If we can reduce congestion, eliminate waste, and bring down costs, higher economic productivity and new growth will allow cities to thrive. New business opportunities will support skill development and jobs.
From a resource perspective, we need to produce more inside the cities using materials that can be recycled and composted. We need to survey the city for empty space that are under-utilised (eg. office spaces that empty at 5 pm can be used for a different purpose in the evenings! As you can see walking through an urban area at night, the lights of office buildings are always on, regardless of office hours.)
Cities are primed to be places where goods are shared instead of owned, for example we can share bicycles and electric scooters and cars for transport; we can share power tools and pressure washers and other home-improvement tools from a central tool library instead of each having to buy them.
Cities around the world are adopting circular economy principles and frameworks, using policy levers to drive their transitions to a circular economy. This includes everything from enabling platforms to share fashion and tools, making all new infrastructure circular through regulation, guidelines to drive government procurement, interventions to mandate end of life responsibility for materials and goods and managing organic waste to convert it into organic gold that nourishes farms that in-turn feed the people in the cities. There are so many examples to explore! Here are some.
Embracing the circular economy is the only way forward. We hope this article as peaked your interest and helped you understand the potential of this new way of thinking. Anyone interested in diving into the circular economy to learn more, should head to Ellen Macarthur Foundation, the leaders in this space & who's website is packed with real life examples from diverse industries.