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Spotlight on the Circular Economy

The Circular Economy is a model that can be compared to living systems that have been around for billions of years and will be around for many more. When we look at the flow of materials in natural ecosystems, one species' waste is another’s food, energy is provided by the sun, and when things die their nutrients are returned to the earth for new things to grow. Human beings have adopted a linear ecosystem where we take, make, and dispose. When something new is made we dispose of other things, and each time we do this we are using our finite resources and producing waste which is unsustainable for the long term. Let’s envision a change to our ways of thinking, production, consumption and how we might live in a circular system. How can our waste build capital rather than reduce it?

The Principles of the Circular Economy

The circular economy differentiates technical and biological cycles where biologically based materials like food can be fed back into the system via composting, whereas technical cycles recover and restore products (e.g. washing machines), components (e.g. motherboards), and materials (e.g. limestone) through strategies like reuse, repair, re-manufacture or recycling.

The Circular Economy aims to follow nature’s cycles of design to regenerate living systems like soil and oceans and provide renewable resources for the economy. In order to do this a focus is also placed on renewable energy in order to fuel these cycles for the purpose of decreasing resource dependence and increasing systems resilience. For more information on this check out this article on What are renewable energies?

In short, the main purpose of the circular economy is to “optimize resource yields by circulating products, components, and the materials in use at the highest utility at all times in both technical and biological cycles”.

So then what can we do? Here are a few ideas:

  • Redesign our products and components and the packaging they come in to provide safe and compostable materials that help grow more.

  • Recycle valuable metals, polymers and alloys so they maintain their quality and continue to be useful beyond the shelf life of their products.

  • Instead of a throwaway-and-replace culture we can adopt a return and renew culture where the waste of yesterday becomes the resources of tomorrow.

  • Design products that go back to their makers to be remanufactured and reused, made and transported using renewable energy.

An example of a better business model

Ice River Sustainable Solutions is an Ontario-based water bottle company that believes enough single use plastic exists in the world already. They have adopted the Circular Economy model by operating their own recycling facility in a closed loop (curbside pickup, bottling, and recycling) to eliminate the need to repurchase virgin PET (polyethylene terephthalate, the chemical name for polyester). In doing this they are able to manufacture their bottles from 100% post-consumer content and remain well established in the Circular Economy for PET plastic. In pursuit of more eco-friendly operations they also focus on educating consumers, manufacturers and government organizations.

Article by: Kagiso Pupp.

Main photo credit: Mary Paquet

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