If you are concerned about the environment, you have probably heard about circular economy. It is estimated that each inhabitant of the UK generates around half a tonne of waste per year: this is one of the most significant impacts of the current linear economy model, which we are used to, and which has a high impact on our planet generating high amounts of pollution, and consuming lots of non-renewable resources. But, what is circular economy?
Circular economy introduces a new economic model that is becoming more and more imperative to implement; it’s a more environmentally sustainable model of production and consumption. So, in order to understand the principles of the circular economy, in the following lines we are going to explain how the circular economy works, and why it is so important for our common future.
Definition of circular economy
We can define the circular economy – also called simply as CE – as a new economic model of production and consumption that is committed to sustainable growth, promoting the optimisation of resources and lowering consumption of raw materials, also maximising the use of waste to extend its useful life and provide it with an added value.
Circular economy, therefore, seeks to “imitate” the processes that occur in nature, where everything – absolutely everything – is useful and there is no such thing as “waste”, but rather every single element is reintegrated into the system. In this way, the linear system of the current economic model, which is based on “use and throw away”, is avoided, preventing the generation of waste, reusing as far as possible, and recycling at the end of the product’s useful life, but always as the last step in the whole process.
The 7 R’s of the circular economy
Those who know concepts about circular economy, will surely have heard of the famous 3 Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle). In recent years, these principles have been complemented with new useful concepts: e.g., why not make products more durable from the beginning? Why not repair products, instead of throwing them away? This is precisely what the 7 R’s concept of the circular economy is about:
- Redesign: this is about making products with the environment and sustainability in mind, based on eco-design.
- Reduce: we must seek not only to reduce what we consume, but also the waste we generate, so that we can prevent additional damage to our planet.
- Reuse: we can extend the useful life of products by giving them a new use or, for example, by selling them as second-hand items.
- Repair: when a product breaks down, we quickly think of buying a new one. But, have you ever thought about how this affects our planet?
- Renovate: instead of throwing away an outdated product or object, we can think about updating or renovating it, so that it becomes useful again.
- Recover: we can collect products or materials that have been discarded, and reintroduce them into the production chain.
- Recycle: when it is no longer possible to continue using them, we can collect products and raw materials to generate new ones. But remember, this is the last option!
Differences between linear and circular economy
For those who do not know what the circular economy is and how it differs from the linear economy, we must underline that human economies have until today opted for linear production models, based on the extraction of raw materials, the production of consumer goods, and their final disposal in a landfill. However, with a growing population that consumes more and more, this resource-intensive model has become more unsustainable, endangering all forms of life (including us, humans).
In contrast, circular economy seeks to implement a much more sustainable production model, in which raw materials are not discarded so quickly, thus reducing the rate at which they are extracted, and generating less amounts of waste. Therefore, a fundamental principle of the circular economy is that resources are kept in the production process for as long as possible, and this makes a big difference when we compare it with our current linear model of economy.
Examples of circular economy
OK then, now we know what the circular economy is, what its principles are… But, how can the circular economy be applied? How can companies implement a circular economy? A simple and very effective way to apply the circular economy is to reduce waste generation as much as possible, both during the production process and during a product life: for example, fighting against planned obsolescence, or designing more sustainable products, something that has become possible thanks to Kaeltia’s eco-design.
Other ways in which companies can implement a circular economy or a circular trade, are the following:
- Collecting and recycling materials to produce new products.
- Reusing products, for example, by offering buy-back schemes for used products.
- Giving value to waste, considering it as a resource and not as “rubbish”, and seeking to make the most of it.
- Committing to sharing, as carsharing companies are already doing in many cities, for example.
- Improving product designs to make them more efficient and more sustainable, from their origin, to the end of their useful life.
- Products as a service: that is, offering access to a product, depending on the need, instead of selling it as property. This is what the so-called service economy is about.
What are the benefits of circular economy?
We have already seen all the changes that a green and circular economy can bring to our planet. However, the benefits of the circular economy are not just for the environment, but also for humans, benefiting us in many ways. Let’s take a look at its main advantages:
Protects the environment:
By focusing on reducing the use of raw materials and natural resources, the circular economy reduces the impact of their extraction on the environment, helping to prevent the destruction of ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity.
Reduces the use of resources:
Linear economy requires a high demand of raw materials, which are often scarce, and usually highly dependent on certain countries. Circular economy seeks to break this dependence by reducing the use of resources, reusing them and opting for locally sourced raw materials.
Stimulates employment and innovation:
Focusing on a circular economy implies investment in innovation and new technologies: this means an increase in competitiveness, and fosters the creation of new jobs. It is estimated that the circular economy could generate 700,000 jobs by 2030, just in the EU.
Reduces greenhouse gasses:
Industrial processes account for more than 9% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. By focusing on extending the life of existing products, we are able to reduce the demand for raw materials and energy required by industry to generate new products, so we can reduce the emissions that trigger climate change.
Supports local economies:
The circular economy stimulates models based on the production and use of local resources, promoting local economy and employment.
In summary: now you know the answer to questions such as “What is circular economy”, as well as all the benefits it brings to us and the environment… So, don’t you think it’s time to start applying it? Help us to save our planet!