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What Is A Circular Economy?

The world is demanding a crucial change. We have taken our planet for granted for too long by producing products using finite resources without thinking about how they will be disposed. We have further facilitated this bad habit by creating temporary and toxic solutions to deal with our waste such as landfill and incineration, or simply just dumping it into our oceans. In order to live on a healthy planet our fundamental systems must change, we must have a circular economy.

Our current economic model is linear. It is a process of make-take-dispose. In this current climate, companies are focused on growth. In order for companies to make products, they must promise their investors a certain amount of growth. They are contractually obliged to deliver growth, even if it is not sustainable. If a company is plateauing but still making millions of dollars, it is still considered as failing. Individuals at the top of these companies recognise how problematic this is but their hands are tied in the capitalist system that our economy is built upon. In order to solve this issue, we must drive forward in a new direction. A circular economy. So, what is a circular economy? A circular economy is based on three main principles: -Design out waste and pollution -Keep products and materials in use -regenerate natural systems When considering the first principal, it is asking manufacturers to include ‘end of life’ in the design of their products. At the moment products are designed only for their use, what happens when they are no longer being used needs to be factored into their design, or not manufactured at all. The second asks us to reuse the materials we have. A common misunderstanding of a circular economy is that it is the same as recycling. Recycling is still linear, it is just a slower process of the linear structure. If a product has a second life but can’t be recycled a third time, it is still a problematic item. Keeping products and materials in use also negates the need process new materials, therefore the energy used and damage to the earth, such as deforestation, is factored out of the manufacturing process. Finally, a circular economy looks to regenerate natural systems. It is as simple as looking at any organic being, for example, a flower. A flower grows naturally from the earth, lives its life, and biodegrades, giving those nutrients back into the earth to give birth to another flower next spring. Beautiful. Simple. Sustainable. 

So, how can we make this change happen? Building a long term circular economy aims to generate business and economic opportunities, providing environmental and social benefits. There are two cycles involved in the circular economy; biological and technical. The biological cycle is where consumption happens, food and organic materials are designed to feed back into the system like composting or digestion. This regenerates living systems, providing renewable resources for the economy. The second is technical, technical cycles restore products through reuse of materials and remanufacture. We have the digital technology to support a transition to a circular economy, we just need to initiate it This cannot be done on an individual scale. Large global companies need to take the responsibility to build systems that adhere to circular design. Consumers do not have the ability to choose only cyclically designed products in our current world, however the consumer does have a voice to demand a circular economy and vote for legislation in a greener direction.

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