What is a Circular Economy?

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The idea of a circular economy, simply put, is a way of doing business that is entirely regenerative. Rather than 'making and disposing' of product, there is a focus on recycling, re-using and zero waste — a focus that is intentionally embedded into every facet of a product's lifecycle, from its design and manufacture, to what happens beyond its point of sale. It's now (rightfully) hip to be smart about the materials and fabric used (recycled ocean plastic, anyone?) and the waste created (i.e. reduce carbon footprint, use renewable energy resources, and minimize or even upcycle waste). It's about creating products that, beyond their initial use, can be recycled and regenerated rather than sent to a landfill or upcycled and given to a new owner.

7 Key Elements of a Circular Economy

  1. Prioritise Regenerative Resources
    Ensure renewable, reusable, non-toxic resources are utilised as materials and energy in an efficient way.
  2. Preserve and Extend what's already made
    While resources are in-use, maintain, repair and upgrade them to maximise their lifetime and give them a second life through take back strategies when applicable.
  3. Use waste as a resource
    Utilise waste streams as a source of secondary resources and recover waste for reuse and recycling.
  4. Rethink the business model
    Consider opportunities to create greater value and align incentives through business models that build on the interaction between products and services.
  5. Design for the Future
    Account for the systems perspective during the design process, to use the right materials, to design for appropriate lifetime and to design for extended future use. Circular design considers product reuse, refurbishment, reintroducing product parts into the manufacturing process, or recycling its raw materials (e.g. high quality paper to recycled paper products).
  6. Incorporate Digital Technology
    Track and optimise resource use and strengthen connections between supply chain actors through digital, online platforms and technologies that provide insights.
  7. Collaborate to create joint value
    Work together throughout the supply chain, internally within organisations and with the public sector to increase transparency and create joint value.

Ultimately as consumers, we have the ability to choose what we buy. We should be looking for quality over quantity – items that can be worn or used over and over again – and, ideally, avoid items that, although cheap and cheerful, will quickly end up in our trash cans.

To put simply,

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Many companies have taken it upon themselves to reconsider the manufacturing processes of today, and carve out successful and sustainable business models. Read more about these companies here.