Circular economy refers to maintain and optimize the value of products and materials for as long as possible; waste is minimized, and resources are kept within the economy when a product has reached the end of its life, to be used again and again to create further value through more efficient production and use of goods and services, with the aim of increasing their resilience or sustainability of these resources. It is based on three principles:
- Design out waste and pollution
- Keep products and materials in use
- Regenerate natural systems
Shifting to a circular economy does not only mean to minimize the ill impacts of the linear economy but also signifies a systemic shift that deals in long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.
Technical and biological cycles
The model distinguishes between technical and biological cycles. In biological cycles, Food and biologically-based materials (such as cotton or wood) are designed to feedback into the system through processes like composting and anaerobic digestion. These cycles regenerate living systems, such as soil, which provide renewable resources for the economy. Technical cycles recover and restore products, components, and materials through strategies like reuse, repair, remanufactured, or (in the last resort) recycling.
The circular economy is more than just a buzz phrase. With the global population predicted to approach 9 billion people by 2030, we are using more resources than the planet can provide. Our future depends on reusing what we have in a sustainable way. Fortunately, one resource that is unlimited is innovation, and many companies are developing ingenious ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle. These are some of the companies that are leading the way to a circular economy.
- People’s Choice Award winner TriCiclos began in Chile in 2009 with the stated aim of working towards a “world without waste”. Since then it has built and operated the largest network of recycling stations in South America, diverting 33,000 metric tons of recyclable material from landfills and saving over 140,000 metric tons of carbon emissions.
- Close the Loop: This Australian company has spent more than a decade recovering value from old printer cartridges and soft plastics. Their new innovation turns these materials into roads. The products are mixed in with asphalt and recycled glass to produce a higher-quality road surface that lasts up to 65% longer than traditional asphalt. In every kilometer of road laid, the equivalent of 530,000 plastic bags, 168,000 glass bottles, and the waste toner from 12,500 printer cartridges is used in the mix. So instead of ending up in landfills, all that waste is given a new life, getting us where we need to go.
Benefits of a circular economy
Measures such as waste prevention, ecodesign, and re-use could save EU companies €600 billion – equivalent to 8% of annual turnover – while also reducing total annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4%.
Moving towards a more circular economy could deliver benefits such as reducing pressure on the environment, improving the security of the supply of raw materials, increasing competitiveness, stimulating innovation, boosting economic growth, creating jobs (580,000 jobs in the EU alone).
Consumers will also be provided with more durable and innovative products that will increase the quality of life and save them money in the long term.