What Is A Circular Economy?

Circular Economy recycling symbol

Plastic pollution and the degradation of natural ecosystems are among the greatest environmental challenges we are facing today. Massively responsible for the depletion of our planet’s resources is our current “linear” economy, which extracts, turns resources into products and then disposes of them. This cycle is also called “take-make-waste.” E.g. You buy a t-shirt, wear it for a while and then throw it away. In recent years there has been a growing, more sustainable system called “circular economy”.

The Definition of Circular Economy by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

“A circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.”

“A circular economy reveals and designs out the negative impacts of economic activity that cause damage to human health and natural systems. This includes the release of greenhouse gases and hazardous substances, the pollution of air, land, and water, as well as structural waste such as traffic congestion.”

For more information please visit the Ellen MacArthur Foundation website.

Circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. The entire system is reimagined from start to finish: how resources are managed, minimizing waste, preventing resources and energy from being spent and maximizing economic, environmental and social impacts.

Circular Systems Showing Up Everywhere

You have probably heard about movements like Zero Waste, which revolve around minimizing the waste you produce. You reduce what you need, reuse as much as you can, send little to be recycled, and compost what you cannot. The ultimate goal of living a Zero Waste lifestyle is to eliminate your personal waste production.

However, Ad Vitam’s philosophy with anything regarding sustainability is that any step you take to make an effort to reduce and minimize your waste production is an achievement.

It can get too overwhelming otherwise and we won’t do it all. We all know how things go when we set our goals too high at once (diet plans, workout goals, new year’s resolutions…. hello….). Incorporating one thing at the time into our routines, or doing a little each day has a much higher chance in succeeding and can make a big difference in the long run.

Let’s take a look at fashion, which has a huge impact on environmental pollution. It takes tremendous resources to make fibers such as cotton and polyester that make up 90% of clothing. Approximately 50 million tons of clothing is discarded each year. Most of it is not biodegradable and will end up in landfills. We throw away about 80% of our textiles directly in the garbage.

Some areas of fashion have been using a circular model. If you love your labels, you probably stumbled upon designer resale and bought stuff on websites like Tradesy or TheRealReal. Taking it a step further are other online second hand clothing stores like ThredUp, where fashion is being reused rather than disposed of.

Big brands like Stella McCartney have been forerunners for sustainable fashion for years.

In December 2019 Vogue had an article about The Future of Fashion Is Circular: Why the 2020s Will Be About Making New Clothes Out of Old Ones.

A Poster Child of A Circular Economy Business Model

Fashion aside, a great example of a company incorporating a circular model is Loop. It’s a zero-waste delivery service that takes back its packaging to be reused. They pick up the trash from what you ordered, recycle and their cleaning technology hygienically cleans the empty packages you send back so that they are ready for reuse. You can order leading brands for grocery, household to personal care. Click here for a list of their brands. Click here for a full article on Loop.

Take Away

We are in dire need of transforming the take-make-waste system: how we manage resources, how we make and use products, and how we dispose and what we do with the materials afterwards. A circular economy benefits everyone within the limits of our planet.

What can you do? Pay attention to companies that take back packaging or let you refill products and make stuff from recycled materials.

At home, use and reuse things as many times as possible instead of throwing them away and buying new ones. It saves energy and resources from being wasted on manufacturing and shipping more products that will only end up in landfills and oceans.

Innovation is everywhere but it also takes consumers to do our part and contribute to sustainable solutions.

“If we don’t appreciate the crucial role that natural capital plays for our economic success, we will under-manage natural capital and our planet’s ability to regenerate itself and to provide that natural capital. We will under-react to the threads and signals we are receiving when we are depleting our natural capital and it will get into the way of our future economic success.”

Martin Stuchtey – How Things Look Today
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