When you pick up an object to use, do you ever consider its entire life cycle? Most products you use throughout the day have a beginning and an end. Your toothbrush, your water bottle, and every piece of furniture in your home were all once natural resources. Then, they were plucked from the environment and molded into something new and useful to humans. How exactly were these objects made? Where will they go once you are finished with them? Ask yourself these questions as you come into contact with objects throughout the day. You will start to notice that many products were produced only to be tossed into a landfill and turned into waste products.
On the bright side, there are many clever ways to get more use out of your products. Some things you own were created with biodegradable, plant-based materials. Products that come from plants can be turned back into healthy soil after use. Additionally, man-made materials can be continuously reused or recycled so that their life cycle serves many generations of use. Think circular. Consider that an object can have many lives and purposes. This circular thought process leads to the concept of a circular economy.
Circular Economy Definition
A circular economy is an economic system that targets global problems like climate change, waste, pollution, and loss of biodiversity. However, our society largely consists of linear economy businesses, rather than circular economy businesses. A linear economy is an economic system that involves taking natural resources from the environment, turning these resources into products, and then turning the products into waste. We essentially turn pieces of our natural world into an object that businesses can earn a profit from. This is also known as a “take-make-waste” economy. This economy has a beginning and an end, like a string.
In place of this string of “take-make-waste”, a circular economy prioritizes reusing, repairing, and recycling products. A circular economy is a closed-loop system that minimizes waste, carbon emissions, and the use of new resources. The goal of the circular economy is to create a long-lasting cycle (or a circle) of products. Products that are involved in this circular lifestyle can be renewed and reused. This eliminates the need to rely on new input sources to generate new products.
The circular economy is a sustainable way for businesses to support our needs. The linear economy, on the other hand, is unsustainable. We will run out of resources and build our landfills sky high at the rate linear economy businesses are running. Circular economies aim to allow business and our society to run more sustainably and efficiently without depleting our natural resources.
A Circular Economy Could Save the Planet
We could save the planet by implementing a circular economy within all businesses. If we can build our society around a circular model of production and consumption, consider the benefits and rewards for our environment and humankind. The circular economy, as told by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is driven by three principles: eliminate waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural resources.
Pollution and waste are currently accepted and expected pieces in the life cycle of products. However, we can unlearn this mindset and realize that these Loaders of Landfills and Causers of Climate Change do not have to be unavoidable by-products. We already have a planet full of materials and products. Instead of sending these existing products to landfills and creating more to replace them, we must reuse what we already have. We can extend the life cycle of products by repairing them and continuing their use. Additionally, our natural resources can be regenerated by restoring natural processes, regenerating ecosystems, and returning nutrients to the soil. For example, regenerative agriculture swaps the use of harmful chemicals for organic fertilizers that restore the health of the soil and crops.
To transition from our largely linear economic path to a circular economy, we must shift our mindset! Consider the life cycle of our existing products. Remember that the end of the life of one product doesn’t have to result in waste. Instead, it can transform into the beginning of the life of a new product.