Our world currently operates in the linear economic model, primarily based on the consumption of finite resources Earth provides us with. The resources are taken out of Earth and turned into products, which at the end of the cycle are disposed of (wasted) and never used again. Just think about all the products you have bought and never used or all the products you have purchased and only used once. For instance, fast fashion massively adds to heaps of waste.
Unfortunately, the linear economic model isn’t working any longer, and if we are to preserve life on Earth, a sustainable approach to the world’s economy is a must.
The circular economy model focuses on how the product is produced and establishes if society and the environment can benefit from it. In the circular economy model, it’s essential to know how the materials will be used in the product flow: how and where the energy is coming from to produce the product and how it will benefit the planet once its lifecycle ends.
The main principle, on which the circular economy is based and designed is that nothing is wasted, and every product and its component is either: reused or re-purposed, once the product cycle is finished, recycling is the last resort in the circular economy model.
As such, the circular economy focuses on building a healthy relationship between the resources we use to make products and longevity of those products and materials. For the circular economy to be thriving on the global scale, it needs to be functional and practical for large and small businesses, as well as organizations and individuals on every level (internationally, nationally, locally).
The circular economy is based on three principles:
1. Getting rid of waste and pollution during the production process: reducing greenhouse gases and hazardous substances, air, land and water pollution, and structural waste such as traffic congestion.
2. Reusing the same products and materials for different purposes (using things, instead of using them up). In practice, it means developing products durability, reusage of materials, remanufacturing and recycling to ensure the products, materials and parts are in constant use.
3. Regenerating natural system: using renewable energies during the production process, instead of fossil fuels and returning nutrients to the soil at the end of the product cycle.
The circular economy model values energy and labour as well as materials.
The circular system uses bio-based materials, and avoids using non-renewable resources, by pioneering many different uses of that material during the cycle between the economy and natural system.
Think about how you could develop ideas to reuse the materials you use daily, instead of ending their cycle immediately in a rubbish bin.
Example of how circular economy can/does exist in our everyday life:
- Buying products that are known for their prolonged lifespan. Yes, they might cost a bit more, but it will save you money in the long run. If I shop for clothes, I don’t shy from buying more expensive items when I know that the quality is much better, meaning I’ll be able to wear them for longer than fast-fashion items. Besides, usually, if you spend small amounts of money on pieces of clothing, you don’t treasure them as much as you do when you spend more. It’s in human nature; if something is cheap or free, we don’t think it has much value.
- Reuse and redistribute items you have and don’t use; sell or buy second hand. I don’t only have clothes in mind, but electronics too. I recently purchased a refurbished keyboard for my iPod, and I’m planning on continuing this tradition. My granny always fixed clothes, and that included tights as well. Of course, the everyday realities of living in a communist country were very different to a democratic country. The reuse aspect of the economy was driven by the limited access to goods.
- Try to find a second life for your products, re-design them. When I was a kid, clothes that weren’t useable any longer were re-sawn or used as cleaning cloths for furniture’s, kitchen table and shoes.
- Not buying everything that we think we need to use only once. When I was growing up, neighbours used to borrow stuff from one another. Hardly anyone had a collection of perfect tools lying around. Everything and anything can be borrowed nowadays. And even of this writing, H&M in the UK is lending people suits for job interviews. This is pretty sweet, and ladies and gentlemen, H&M is onto something. So, watch that space.
- Returning used materials and components to the natural environment as nutrients. Once the product or material cycle has ended, it should be returned to nature instead of creating heaps of waste—for example, organic waste can go back straight into the soil. What else that you use can go right back to the soil?
Think about how you could use ideas incorporated in the circular economy model to improve your everyday life or your business, while focusing on becoming less wasteful and more mindful about the negative effects the traditional linear economy has on our planet and our daily lives.