What is a Circular Economy?

Right behind ‘Covid 19’, ‘circular economy’ is a buzzword that is gaining power. But what does it mean and why is it such a hot topic? The definition of a circular economy is, ‘an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources’.  It is the deliberate change from the current linear model to a more environmentally friendly and sustainable circular model. Put simply, we must replace the ‘take, make, waste’ system with a system that supports a ‘make, use, return’ economy.

In nature things grow and die and then return their nutrients to the ground through a system with no concept of waste. The ‘take, make, waste’ system is the total opposite, we take and use natural resources and then throw them away because they have no other purpose. The result? Insufficient resources and growing climate change concerns. By 2050 scientists expect more plastic in the ocean than fish. Although this is just a theory, this waste, among others, could be the cause high greenhouse gas emissions. We could instead return this waste and utilise it as a resource rather than dump it into landfills. So, what are the alternatives? Instead of landfill being the only answer as it has been historically, we should consider the 4 R’s, reduce/refuse, reuse, repurpose and recycle.

Examples of these are:
  • Reduce/refuse: if you were to limit your consumption of single use coffee cups, over time businesses will stock less and manufacturers will reduce production
  • Reuse: a reusable drink bottle allows you to reuse over and over for its original purpose
  • Repurpose: You can repurpose plastic or steel drums by turning them into feeding troughs or compost bins
  • Recycle: Recycle your car bumper and have it made into construction products. Here at Waipak we would be happy to discuss recycling your car bumper with you


How do we start?

We need to start with how we are things are designing products in order to achieve a circular economy. Consequences of decisions made at the design stage are around 80% of where environmental impacts are determined. This is where the responsibilities of individual businesses come in, to design out waste from the outset. While government action is important, businesses play a crucial role in innovating new, closed loop product designs. Their goal is to keep products/materials in use for as long as possible by extending their lifespans and maximising the potential of their waste. Remember, waste is a product. Jan Willem van den Beukel, PwC’s Global circular economy lead for Sustainability said “If one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, leaving a product to end up in landfill is the equivalent of burying treasure and losing the map.”

As for consumers, their role in creating and maintaining a circular economy is to lower their consumption. If consumers were to simply consume less, there would be a flow on affect. The result? Less products would be produced by manufacturers because consumer demand would decrease. This is an exceptionally important aspect not to be undervalued during ones quest for a circular economy. No company is going to just stop striving for growth. Their objectives are to meet the needs of customers, so the needs of customers must change. This means, we must combine the efforts of businesses, consumers and government policy to achieve success.


The possibilities

Implementing a circular economy will create a number of possibilities. Replenishing and maintaining our natural resources can reduce business costs and benefit society. Most importantly, our overall impact on the planet won’t be detrimental to our existence, or natural systems. As a business owner, you should be particularly motivated to begin your move to a circular economy. With the introduction of more and more sustainability focused government policies, consumer awareness and education is rising. With this rise comes the increased want to buy from circular businesses. Economically, the potential benefits are staggering. As an example, there is 100 times more gold in a ton of discarded mobile phones than there is in a ton of gold ore. Now just imagine the benefits if we were utilising this waste resource, we would see business growth and employment opportunities just to name a few.


Why should we bother?

We should bother because it is nothing short of exciting! It has been labelled the next industrial revolution and it’s already happening. Once others follow suit, we will have the ability to change the world forever. We need to eliminate, innovate and circulate, that’s it, that is a circular economy.