I think that circular economy is the solution for so many different environmental issues since the cause of most of them is over population and over consumption. Todays society is based on a linear consumption patterna the so called “take-make-dispose” patterna. Companies mine for materials to create products that are then sold to customers that throw them away when they don’t need or want the products any more. Most of this waste in incinerated (releasing toxins into the air) or goes to landfills. In this system reuse and recycling are not major economic drivers since it’s easy and cheap to obtain new materials and dispose of waste.
The linear approach relies on large amounts of readily available natural resources and energy. This has been the case in the past when we thought that earth had an unlimited supply that we could just go in a take what we wanted. Now that we are starting to understanding that the resources of the earth are finite another way of looking at our system is growing.
The information and picture is from a report about circular economy that the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, produced 2012. Ellen MacArthur has been a competetive sailor and set a record for sailing around the world alone (71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes och 33 seconds) in 2005. She decided to stop competing in sailing and started the Ellen MacArthur Foundation since she understood that a sailing boat is a lot like the earth. There are a limited set of resources and you have to get very creative in how you use them in the best way. Her TED Talk. She is a real inspiration to me. So what is the circular economy?
The concept of a circular economy is built on a couple different principles. First and foremost all products should be designed from the start with the intention of it being part of a cycle, to be able to disassembled and refurbished. There are two cycles, the technical and the biological (see the illustration). Biological products should be designed to be returned to the biological cycle and refill the natural capital while the technical products are designed to circulate with high quality without enetering the biosphere.
Circular economy is also built on the principal that everything should be powered with renewable energy. Anothe principle is the shift towards a service society. In most cases what you want isn’t a washer – it’s clean clothes. The access of the product is more valuable that actually owning it. Companies will shift to selling the fuction instead of the product. Then they are also responisible for fixing and using the product at the end of it’s life cycle. There will be no waste – only resources to be used over and over.
Many large companies like Ikea, H&M, Renault, Philips among others have already started with the transition. This kind of buisness is the road forward in a world with increasing uncertainty of the availability of raw materials. They see a potential of not just resource efficiency but also sustainable growth, buisness and jobs.
I see this as the only way forward. When I started reading about circular economy last year it was the first time that I got true hope for the future. We just need to make the transition to circular buiness models and renewable energy and fast.