The Circular Economy

 

A much more complex and realistic approach to understanding our lives and the systems in which we live is urgently required.  We must adopt an ecological stance vis-à-vis where we find ourselves.  "Ecological" referring not just to the planet, but to "the set of relationships existing between any complex system and its surroundings or environment" — That is, to all the systems in which we live.

The Circular Economy is a vision for business developed out of an ecological stance.  Adopted by many transnational organizations and governments and especially championed in Europe, this understanding seeks to align business activities with both the reality of limited resources, and the fact that our activities always affect all the systems in which we are embedded. 

Proponents of The Circular Economy seek to rethink and retool how business is done, fundamentally changing our relationship with resources.

Note: the Circular Economy model does not address challenges inherent to the Consumer Economy, nor to privileging maximizing shareholder value and publicly traded companies’ quarter-to-quarter reporting. It is the consummate understatement to note that these are material concerns relative to developing a culture of repair.


The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a standard bearer for this vision.
From the website:

The Circular Economy:
Looking beyond the current take-make-dispose extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital. It is based on three principles:

  • Design out waste and pollution

  • Keep products and materials in use

  • Regenerate natural systems

In a circular economy, economic activity builds and rebuilds overall system health. The concept recognises the importance of the economy needing to work effectively at all scales – for large and small businesses, for organisations and individuals, globally and locally.

Transitioning to a circular economy does not only amount to adjustments aimed at reducing the negative impacts of the linear economy. Rather, it represents a systemic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.

The model distinguishes between technical and biological cycles. Consumption happens only in biological cycles, where food and biologically-based materials (such as cotton or wood) are designed to feed back into the system through processes like composting and anaerobic digestion. These cycles regenerate living systems, such as soil, which provide renewable resources for the economy. Technical cycles recover and restore products, components, and materials through strategies like reuse, repair, remanufacture or (in the last resort) recycling.

There's a world of opportunity to re-think and re-design the way we make stuff. 'Re-Thinking Progress' explores how through a change in perspective we can re-design the way our economy works - designing products that can be 'made to be made again' and powering the system with renewable energy. It questions whether with creativity and innovation we can build a restorative economy.

“There's a world of opportunity to re-think and re-design the way we make stuff. 'Re-Thinking Progress' explores how through a change in perspective we can re-design the way our economy works - designing products that can be 'made to be made again' and powering the system with renewable energy.”

See below for the schematic corresponding to the above text.

For more information see: Ellen MacArthur Foundation Education Resources


Repair is a fundamental component of the Circular Economy.


The high-level schematic below compares resource flow in our current largely linear economy, with resource flow in a circular economy.  The sizes of the circles in the circular economy represent the respective relative resources required by that process to reincorporate material into the flow of resources — re-use consumes the least incremental material, recycling requires the most incremental material. 

This schematic is presented in an in-depth discussion of applying circular economy principles to consumer packaging: " How to Bridge the Gap Between the Packaging Sector and Circular Economy ", by Monia Niero. Published 16 September 2016 with a grant from The  Carlsberg Foundation .  Monia Niero  is a researcher at the Technical University of Denmark, Department of Management Engineering, QSA Division.

This schematic is presented in an in-depth discussion of applying circular economy principles to consumer packaging: "How to Bridge the Gap Between the Packaging Sector and Circular Economy", by Monia Niero. Published 16 September 2016 with a grant from The Carlsberg Foundation. Monia Niero is a researcher at the Technical University of Denmark, Department of Management Engineering, QSA Division.


Ellen MacArthur Foundation Schematic

Image and Text Credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation  This graphic demonstrates several things: • There are two defined material flows - biological and technical • There are two categories of customers - consumers (biological materials) and users (technical materials) • In the technical cycle, the closer the loop is to the user, the more profitable the action. Thus repairing products is a more profitable action than, say, recycling. For information about the above graphic and more, see:  https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/infographic

Image and Text Credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

This graphic demonstrates several things:
• There are two defined material flows - biological and technical
• There are two categories of customers - consumers (biological materials) and users (technical materials)
• In the technical cycle, the closer the loop is to the user, the more profitable the action. Thus repairing products is a more profitable action than, say, recycling.
For information about the above graphic and more, see: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/infographic


Additional Graphics Expanding on the Above Concept:

 
Image Credit: Circular Economy Lab. For information about the above schematic and more, see:  http://circulareconomylab.com/circular-economy-framework/

Image Credit: Circular Economy Lab. For information about the above schematic and more, see: http://circulareconomylab.com/circular-economy-framework/


Image Credit: Athesis Group, a private consultancy in sustainability for business. For information about the above schematic and more, see:  https://www.anthesisgroup.com/circular-economy

Image Credit: Athesis Group, a private consultancy in sustainability for business. For information about the above schematic and more, see: https://www.anthesisgroup.com/circular-economy