What is a circular economy?

What is a circular economy?

The smallest of planet-focused lifestyle changes can make a big difference, but the source of much of our harmful effect on the planet is down to larger scale operations, with just 20 firms accounting for the majority of global waste production. Declarations of climate emergency, and increasing blatancy of environmental effects of global warming call now more than ever for an overhaul of economic processes. A circular economy could present a solution. 

In our overwhelmingly linear economy, materials used for consumer goods become waste after use, contributing to pollution and causing an unnecessary strain on resources. A circular economy, however, creates a closed loop system, maximising the value of materials for as long as possible, reusing and consequently reducing waste which would otherwise be sent to landfill. The regeneration and subsequent heightened productivity of existing resources results in near omission of both waste production and consumption of finite resources. 

This system has undeniable potential, with studies suggesting the development of a circular economy could halve carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. As well as tackling climate change head on, the circular economy model implicitly presents societal advantages. Notably, the reselling and manufacturing of waste products brings significant opportunities for employment; in the UK alone, for example, this could allow for the addressing of regional unemployment, and the potential creation of over 200 000 jobs. On top of this, the diminished need for new materials could reduce costs of products and services, resulting in increased disposable income. 

With large corporations acting as the foundation of a linear economy, and suggestions of a policy transformation being the only surefire means of combating the system, an economic reform may seem impossible. However, the impact of the individual must not be underestimated. Consumers are a significant contributor to attitudes towards commercialization and production, meaning that real change can be determined (or hindered) by our attitudes and behaviours. With this in mind, a shift in consumption choices, especially when adopted on a wide scale, brings enormous potential for reform.

Contribution to the development of a circular economy on an individual basis requires proactive change, and heightened awareness of conscious shopping habits. A great way to adopt the principles of a circular economy is, naturally, to reduce our usage of mass-produced products. Repurposing old goods or purchasing second-hand alternatives not only diminishes your contribution to wasteful processes, but prolongs the life of existing resources. Fortunately, it appears that second-hand goods are on the rise, with pre-loved items quadrupling in popularity yearly. Large companies are also embracing the need for this; IKEA, for example, have introduced a buy-back service, buying second hand furniture from customers to resell at discounted prices, showing the potential for circular economy practices to be adopted on a wide scale. 

On the other hand, consumption of new products can also bring long-term benefits, when these products actively contribute to reduction of waste. Adopting a zero-waste approach to shopping actively rejects unsustainable consumption which contributes to a linear economy. Reusable alternatives to disposable goods encourage the prolonged use of materials, reducing both the demand for valuable resources as well as the volume of material going to landfill. The individual effect of this can be vast, saving up to 10 disposable cans a year per person, implying a momentous environmental benefit when adopted on a wider scale.

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