What Is A Sustainable Circular Economy?

The concept of a circular sustainable economy is a simple one; it means making efficient use of resources by fully recovering materials once their useful life is over and re-using them. The aim is to prevent waste and pollution be designing products so that materials they use are returned to production. One way to achieve this circular sustainability is to recover materials used in production: that is, to recycle them. This is not the entire solution, however: people’s attitude to consumption needs to change as well.

In a circular economy that relies on recycling to close the production loop people would not be discouraged from buying goods, rather manufacturers and recycling companies would need to improve their practices significantly or product would need to be created that can be recycled easily. While recycling is a less energy-intensive process than creating material from fresh resources it still produces significant carbon emissions. Even where recycling only used only renewable energy it would still require significant resources to build the required infrastructure. The solution, particularly in developed economies, is to reduce the total amount of materials used.

To achieve true circular sustainability in the economy both production and consumption would need to change together. It would mean designing products that last for longer and can be repaired, reused or remanufactured to increase their usable life significantly. This is a form of recycling that retains the functional value of a product rather than simply recovering the materials and energy that were used in its production. Consumers need to learn to use products responsibly while manufacturers need to do more with less material. Clothing is a particularly good example; much of it is not recycled and the concept of ‘fast fashion’ means consumers buy more clothing more often and discard it quickly. Instead, people need to learn to buy fewer new clothes and restyle the clothes they already.

These new habits of consumption would open up new opportunities for circular business models. For example, clothes could be recycled, re-sold or leased to extend their useful life. New production would be focused on products that people really need. It has been estimated that moving to this type of reusable business model could generate four times as many jobs as recycling and waste treatment.

A sustainable circular economy will rely on a new economics of production which moves away from constant growth to one in which other factors are prioritized such as protecting the environment, improving quality and durability and doing more with less in order to ensure future economic prosperity while also protecting the environment.

A circular economy is a more sustainable alternative to a linear economy and offers benefit-driven results for both the environment and business.

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