What Exactly is the Circular Economy?

What Exactly is the Circular Economy?
12th August 2021

There’s a lot of talk about the circular economy these days, but how many of us know exactly what that means? Read on to discover the three guiding principles – as set out by experts at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (1)

Right now, the way we consume tech is linear. We take resources from the ground to make our phones, laptops and tablets, then we toss these devices aside as soon as we get newer, shinier models.

Yet this system of take-make-dispose is unsustainable. We can’t keep squandering our planet’s limited resources – instead, we must reinvent how we manage them, how we make and use products and what we do with the materials afterwards.

That’s where the circular economy comes in…

This disruptive economy has three guiding principles:

1. Design out waste and pollution

80% of environmental impacts are determined at the design stage, so this is when there’s a chance to make a real change. We need to start seeing waste as a design flaw, rather than the norm, and minimise it through innovative ways of creating and building the things we need. That’s what Vegware are doing with their plant-based compostable coffee cups, sandwich packaging and bin liners. And the same is true of Fairphone, with their robust, long-lasting phones that are modular and easy to upgrade.

2. Keep products and materials in use

Rather than disposing of products, we must keep them and the materials they’re made of in use. And to do this, we must make it easier to repair or reuse them – just as Patagonia is doing through their free clothing repair service. Similarly, Spring repairs and refurbishes old tech – as well as recycling products beyond repair to retrieve raw materials and make sure they don’t go to landfill.

3. Regenerate natural systems

In nature, there is no waste – everything has its own usefulness and purpose. Now, some companies are aiming to replicate these efficient natural systems – for instance, Ostara, which has developed a sustainable way to recover phosphorus and nitrogen from municipal, industrial and animal waste. These nutrients are then used to create an environmentally friendly fertiliser – thus closing the loop and converting waste into a useful, valuable resource. Spring is pioneering a similarly regenerative system in which old tech is not seen as waste, but as part of a cycle and reused again and again.

Interested in hearing more about the circular economy and how you can play your part? You can stay up-to-date with all the latest conversations from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation by visiting their learning hub dedicated to the circular economy…

  1. "What Is The Circular Economy?". Ellenmacarthurfoundation.Org. Accessed 28 July 2021. https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/what-is-the-circular-economy.
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