What is a circular economy?

 

The Ellen Macarthur Foundation, a UK charitable organisation involved in campaigning for the widespread adoption of a circular economy describes it as:

 

“A circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems[1].”

 

Essentially, A circular economy is one that actively designs products, manufacturing techniques and social policy to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible.  It goes beyond individual recycling and reuse activities and is focussed on a new normal that encourages a collective focus between industry and commerce on the sustainability of the planet and its communities.

What is wrong with the current way of doing things?

 

Our world and the social and commercial networks within it are globalised, complex and dynamic.  Natural resources from around the world, including human labour, is now intrinsically interconnected and being depleted, exploited and destroyed at an alarming rate.   

 

Global Footprint Network, an environmental non-profit organisation, released a publication in July 2019 stating that the planet had overshot its ecological footprint on the 29th July 2019.  This was 2 months earlier than 20 years ago.  Essentially, what this means is that, globally, we are using 1.75 times more natural resources than the planet can sustainably regenerate.  They estimate that the UK alone would require 4 times its natural resources to meet the demands of its citizens.[2]

 

The traditional economy (often called a Linear economy) leads to the depletion of natural resources creating a number of issues including: scarcity, volatility, rising costs, climate change, negative impact to human health, economic instability and biodiversity loss.  These are all pressing issues and rapidly becoming mainstream concerns.

 

 

What is a Linear economy?

 

In a linear economy we mine raw materials and exploit natural resources (often causing significant harm to the environment and the communities who carry out this extraction) to produce a product, that we consume and use and when we are done with it, we dispose of it.  This is also known as the, Take – Break – Dispose, cycle.

 

How does the circular economy differ?

The Ellen Macarthur Foundation sums up the concept of a circular economy as ‘re-thinking progress’.  That circular economic activity continually builds overall system health into all that it does by designing waste out of the system, redefines what is meant by growth, focus on positive society-wide benefits and moves away from the over-consumption of finite resources, all underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources.

The circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital and it is based on three principles:

  • Design out waste and pollution

  • Keep products and materials in use

  • Regenerate natural systems

 

Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) is a British registered charity who claim that as well as creating new opportunities for growth, a more circular economy will:

  • reduce waste

  • drive greater resource productivity 

  • deliver a more competitive UK economy.

  • position the UK to better address emerging resource security/scarcity issues in the future. 

  • help reduce the environmental impacts of our production and consumption in both the UK and abroad[3]

 

 

The circular economy, today

Much work is already underway across the globe to better understand, and re-think what is meant by ‘growth’ and to consider innovations and collaborations to implement circular economic activity.   Businesses, governments, cities and academic institutions are all beginning to explore possibilities and opportunities under the concept of the circular economy.

The Ellen Macarthur Foundation published a report in 2015 called the  Growth Within which identified that transition to a circular economy in Europe could add €900 billion to GDP by 2030, increase household income by €3,000 a year, and halve CO2 emissions compared with current levels.[4]

 

Here, at The Green Greyhound, we believe we can all play our own small part in the circular economy.  By purchasing products that have designed out waste, factored in re-use, and encourage the responsible and sustainable use of recycled, natural and organic materials, we are actively contributing toward a more sustainable future within small circular economies.  Individual changes, collectively make a big difference.

 

 

NB:  The circular economy is a significant and emerging economic debate and our policy is produced as a succinct overview only.  It should in no way be considered a comprehensive description or analysis.    

 

 

[1] https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/what-is-the-circular-economy

[2] https://www.overshootday.org/newsroom/press-release-july-2019-english/

[3]http://www.wrap.org.uk/about-us/about/wrap-and-circular-economy

[4] https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/our-work/regions/europe

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