What is the circular economy?

Take, make, consume and throw away. This is the principle on which the current linear economy is based. It is a system that assumes that our supply of resources is infinite and that the Earth can absorb all of our waste, which has real costs, for businesses and for the planet.

This is where the circular economy, an alternative to the linear economy, can be a game-changer.

Definition of circular economy

“The circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive benefits for society. It involves progressively decoupling economic activity from the consumption of limited resources and eliminating waste from the system. » Ellen MacArthur Foundation Circular Economy Definition

A circular economy is a closed-loop economic system in which raw materials, components and products lose value as little as possible, and where renewable energy sources are used.
It is a model based on the following principles: eliminating waste and pollution, conserving products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems.

A circular economy promotes activities that preserve value in the form of energy, labor and materials. This means designing products that are durable, reusable, and recycled to keep the components circulating in the economy.

This approach also reveals and eliminates the negative impacts of economic activity that harm human health and natural systems. These include emissions of greenhouse gases and hazardous substances, air, soil and water pollution, and structural waste such as traffic jams.

Additionally, a circular economy avoids the use of non-renewable resources and preserves or enhances renewable resources, such as returning valuable nutrients to the soil to promote regeneration, or using renewable energy instead of relying on fossil fuels. .

Circular Economy and Linear Economy

Until now, we have lived with linear production models, that is, we extract, produce, consume and discard. The society we live in causes the pace of consumption to accelerate, a rapid but unsustainable pattern for the planet.

The circular economy establishes a more sustainable production and consumption model in which raw materials are kept longer in production cycles and can be used repeatedly, thus generating much less waste. As the name suggests, the essence of this model is to keep resources in the economy for as long as possible, allowing the waste we produce to be used as raw material for other industries.

Importance of circular economy

The circular economy is not a new concept, but it has received significant attention in recent years due to the growing urgency of climate change, waste and resource scarcity.

Moving towards a more circular economy could deliver benefits such as reducing pressure on the environment, improving security of raw material supply, increasing competitiveness, boosting innovation, stimulating economic growth, creating jobs, and obtaining more sustainable and innovative products.

The circular economy also promises new economic gains. Today, only 8.6% of the resources entering the global economy are recycled there. The rest follows the path of the linear economy, discarded and often replaced with new items. By recovering and recycling resources, we recover value. Businesses have indeed seen real benefits from making products from waste, proving that the circular economy makes economic growth possible without relying on limited resources.

Does the circular economy work?

The circular economy is not an automatic or guaranteed solution to sustainability issues. Circularity is difficult because it is complex. For one company to be able to reuse another company’s waste, for example, requires good communication, constant availability of materials and collaboration between unlikely partners. Complexity increases as one moves up the scale of values, for example with reuse or manufacturing versus recycling.

The good news: Many organizations exist to facilitate collaboration and collective action. These include the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and Closed Loop Partners’ Center for Circular Economy.

Nevertheless, the circular economy implies major changes for other sectors of society as well as for businesses. Consumers should fully embrace the ideas of reducing purchases, reusing products and, where this is not possible, recycling.

Like so many other solutions that already exist to adapt to and curb global warming and the destruction of ecosystems, the circular economy has a lot of potential, and can be the source of real long-term change while protecting nature and future generations. But you still have to get started.

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