Linear Economy to Circular Economy
Currently there are still products that are produced as part of a linear economy. A linear economy is where raw materials are extracted from the ground to make products which will eventually be thrown away as waste. This system is not environmentally friendly, sustainable, or efficient. A much better system would be to operate within a circular economy.
A circular economy aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible and therefore reduces the need to grow, harvest or extract new raw materials from the earth to make new products.
A circular economy extracts the maximum value from a material and has many benefits. These include helping to eliminate waste and pollution, tackling climate change by reducing greenhouse gases and reducing biodiversity loss.
It can involve sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing products to extend their lifecycle and therefore reduce waste, which can lead to new jobs, healthy lifestyles, and green growth.
A circular economy helps to protect our environment and natural resources and uses a lot less energy than making new products from scratch. Sometimes it can be a huge difference, as much as 95% less energy. For example, metals and glass can be recycled repeatedly without any loss of quality and recycling one drinks can, could save enough energy to power a TV for up to four hours. Using less energy by recycling also means producing less carbon emissions which contribute to climate change.
The Waste Hierarchy, which governs the management of waste and also aligns with the circular economy, ranks waste management options according to what is best for the environment. It gives top priority to preventing waste in the first place, such as using less material in design and manufacture and keeping products in use for longer. When waste is created the hierarchy gives priority to preparing it for re-use, (such as repairing and refurbishing), then recycling and composting, then other recovery (which involves turning the waste into a useable form of energy such as electricity, heat, or fuel; through a variety of techniques) and last of all disposal.
Further information on a circular economy can be found on the following websites:
- Ellen Macarthur Foundation provides an overview, key ideas, and circular economy examples. You can also find a useful video which explains the circular economy and how products can be designed that can be ‘made to be made again.’
- The Waste and Resource Action Programme (WRAP) provides information on a circular economy and how to reach net zero climate targets faster.