Companies manufacture products due to mass consumerism which is the need to buy and acquire goods. The more items that are manufactured, the more likely resources go to waste. A way to resolve this problem is creating a circular economy. Circular economy is a concept which can provide economic development and is designed to benefit businesses, society, and the environment by reducing waste.
The circular economy is a response to the1950’s “take-make-waste” model. This linear model involved mining raw materials from Earth, manufacturing them into products to be sold, and using them till they did not work anymore. Products were then thrown away and ended up at landfill sites. This design is described as degenerative because it ultimately wastes resources.
The Circular economy is a regenerative design because it aims to reduce the consumption of finite or limited resources as well as waste and pollution and keeps materials and products in use by recycling and repurposing them for different uses. This is what keeps the cycle alive.
Wasting resources will speed up climate change.
The impact climate change could have on our planet is frightening. Action fighting climate change should at the top of our priorities, failure to do so could cause extreme temperatures resulting in the loss of entire countries due to rising sea levels, widespread fires, and deadly flooding. Since most emissions come from the manufacturing and use of products. If the way we manufacture and use items aren’t changed by implementing a circular economy, emissions will continue to grow, but faster due to the increase of consumerism.
How does circular economy work?
The current linear model requires raw materials being mined and, manufactured into products and used till the end of the cycle. For the economy to be circular it is best to re-use materials that are already extracted. For example, it is better to mine copper that is not used anymore instead of mining new ones from the ground. Due to decades of wasteful practices, copper is predicted to be mined out by 2040. Studies have found that processing recycled copper uses only 10-20% of the energy it takes to process new copper. This demonstrates the urgency which with we need to re-evaluate our wasteful habits.
Recycling is becoming a part of everyday culture, but for our economy to be circular to be most effective, there are many things we can do before we reach the stage of recycling. When manufacturing products, they can be designed so the product can be easily dismantled, making the process of extracting the material for recycling to be done with limited difficulty. These products can also be manufactured so they last a long time allowing it to be repaired and maintained. Items can also be made to use as little energy as possible.
The purpose of the model is that "everything is healthy food for something else". which means nothing will go to landfill sites.
Transitional strategies that help create a circular economy include Substitution and Dematerialisation.
Substitution means using different resources to achieve the same goal. e.g., since the world is running out of lithium, car manufacturers can have to substitute lithium-ion batteries with sodium-ion batteries. This logic can be applied to substituting hazardous materials in products for non-toxic materials.
Dematerialisation refers to using less of a resource to serve the same economic function in society. An example of this is the transition from CD’S and newspapers to mobile applications. This serves the exact same purpose as prior methods, however, uses less resources with a longer life, which can reduce waste.
Benefits to businesses and individuals?
A circular economy provides opportunities for both businesses and individuals to profit from. Businesses can gain profit because the price of remanufacturing products such as mobile phones could be reduced by half. It could also provide a new demand for services such as reverse logistics companies which receive a return of unsold goods by customers so they can be re-used. It is also said that customer interactions and loyalty is improved, which allows for better service and customer satisfaction.
Individuals will be positively impacted as a circular economy has the ability to increase the disposable income of a family. This is because there is reduction in the prices for products and services, saving people lots of money. On average the disposable income of European households are said to increase by EUR 3000 in the near future.
To summarise, creating a circular economy is sustainable because it reduces waste by reusing and recycling resources rather than sending them to landfill and aims to tackle climate change. If successful, a circular economy would have a positive impact on our planet, our society, and our pockets. Completely changing from a linear economy to a circular economy may take some time as it requires changing production and consumption practices that have been the norm for decades. That being said, the benefits of adopting the circular economy fair outweigh the potential dangers the planet will face if we do not.