What Would a Circular Economy Look Like?

Imagine if the stuff you used never became waste, and nature could constantly restore itself. This is the simple yet powerful thinking behind the circular economy.

How would a circular economy work?

In short, it’s a system where everything gets reused, and participants emphasize the following practices:

  • Maintaining
  • Reusing
  • Refurbishing
  • Remanufacturing
  • Recycling
  • Composting

Circular means doing more with less

Specifically, it requires separating the economy from resource extraction and usage.

More formally, the basis of the circular economy relies on three fundamental principles, according to The Ellen Macarthur Foundation:

  1. Eliminating waste and pollution
  2. Circulating products and materials (at their optimal value)
  3. Restoring nature

This common-sense approach to value creation and preservation has the potential to tackle some of the biggest challenges of our time, including weather shifts, environmental degradation (habitat and biodiversity loss, waste, pollution), and more.

Today’s linear economy

The modern economy is linear: Raw materials are extracted and manufactured into goods that are used and thrown away.

  • This process creates lots of waste with resources that could be repurposed and reused in a circular economy.

In circular thinking, waste is not produced in the first place, as resources become repeatedly used. Materials such as textiles, metals, and plastics continue to recirculate and get refurbished, creating value over and over again.

How to make stuff more circular

A primary consideration for the circular economy is producing goods built with recycling and the end in mind. Products should be made

  • With materials that can be repurposed. Blended materials, like polyester-cotton blend textiles, can be difficult or impossible to separate and/or recycle and might not be best for certain use cases.
  • For longevity and to reduce or eliminate planned obsolescence whenever possible.
  • With many possible downstream uses and reuses that average people can access and implement.

Get involved

The Circular Economy requires consumers to do their part by:

  • Purchasing goods consisting of easily reusable elements
  • Repairing and maintaining goods
  • Avoid buying goods designed to be obsolete or disposable

Moving toward a circular economy requires everyone to do their part through conscious manufacturing, purchasing, repair, maintenance, and creative reuse.

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