Everything You Need to Know About Circular Economies: Definition, Benefits & More
Circular economies may hold the key to a sustainable future. Recycling materials like plastic is no longer enough to tackle climate change, as the greenhouse gasses released during the production process still pose a significant risk to our planet.
Though there are similarities between recycling and circular economies, the latter focuses on preventing waste in the first place, not just reusing waste once it has been produced. We at The Sustainability Speakers Agency have put together an ultimate guide to circular economies, use our frequently asked questions below to find out more:
Frequently Asked Questions About Circular Economies:
- What does ‘circular economy’ mean?
- Who coined the term ‘circular economy’?
- How do circular economies work?
- What are the benefits of a circular economy?
- Can a circular economy make waste obsolete?
- Are circular economies possible?
- What are examples of circular economies?
- Who are the leading figures within circular economies?
- How do I book a climate champion?
What does ‘circular economy’ mean?
Circular economies take our traditionally linear production and consumption framework and transform it into a more sustainable system. Typically, materials are mined, processed and turned into products and when they are no longer of use, such products are disposed of at landfill sites. Circular economies instead reuse the materials for new products, reducing the carbon output.
Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Who coined the term ‘circular economy’?
The term ‘circular economy’ was not coined by a single person but instead born from an amalgamation of 21-st century theories and principles. The combination of economics, manufacturing and sustainability is responsible for producing the innovative approach, which many now believe to be integral to a carbon-neutral future.
Source: Chatham House
How do circular economies work?
Circular economies are made up of three simple steps – the secret of the process? After step three, you start step one all over again! Rather than the materials being incinerated or ending up in landfills, they are reintroduced and reused over and over again.
Step 1: Products are manufactured and packaged
Step 2: The product is sold and used
Step 3: Once used, the product is either:
- Repaired and reused by the owner
- Reused and resold to a new buyer
- Refurbished and reproduced to be sold
- Recycled and reproduced to be sold
Ultimately, no new materials are introduced – unless required to repair or refurbish the product – and therefore, fewer greenhouse gasses are produced.
What are the benefits of a circular economy?
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, below are the five benefits of a circular economy. In their guide, the author uses the food industry– which is a key contributor to carbon emissions – as an example:
- Regulates the natural systems
- Combats climate change
- Improve access to nutritious food
- Support local communities
- Saves money and creates value
Other benefits include reducing the use of non-renewable resources, providing benefits for the consumer, and opening new opportunities for companies. Circular economies force businesses to innovate, as they move away from traditional manufacturing methods and embrace cutting-edge and sustainable practices.
Can a circular economy make waste obsolete?
A study by The World Bank predicts that by 2025, humans will produce upwards of five trillion tonnes of waste materials a year. Such a staggering statistic is a stark warning to every person on planet earth – we must reduce our physical output.
If we do achieve a global circular economy, will rubbish be a thing of the past? A sustainable future will transform how we even define rubbish, as the products we now throw away will be considered essential for repurposing, instead of excess products or materials in the consumption process.
Currently, “trash” is defined by Cambridge Dictionary as ‘waste material or things that are no longer wanted or needed’. In the future, the definition will be obsolete, as there will be no such thing as ‘waste material’!
Are circular economies possible?
Circular economies may feel like a fantasy, but in practice, the infrastructure is already in place. Recycling plants have become a staple of our waste management process, so with increased investment, a network of sustainable businesses and a touch of innovation, the materials can be reused.
It also starts with the businesses themselves. By creating products that are durable and easy to repair, consumers are less likely to replace their electronics, fashion and more when they inevitably degrade. For a circular economy to be viable, businesses and organisations must be meaningful and think of the future, not just the short-term performance of their products.
Examples of Circular Economies
- THREDUP – The fashion company designed a modern resale experience to make it easier for consumers to buy and sell second-hand clothes. ThredUP does the leg work for you, by processing, storing, and listing the clothes on your behalf.
- GREENWAVE – The brand’s polyculture ocean farming method uses a 3D lattice of ropes and baskets to produce shellfish and seaweed. GreenWave uses the materials for food, fertiliser, animal feed and bioplastics.
- LUSH – Renowned for their sustainability, 65% of Lush’s products use eco-conscious packaging and are considered ‘naked’. They have cut down on packaging by innovating solid shampoo, conditioner and body wash bars.
Who are the leading figures within circular economies?
Within circular economies, several leading figures are pioneering this new, innovative approach to waste management. From their positions within the world’s biggest businesses and global political bodies, these climate champions are changing the way we view single-use materials.
Additionally, these influential pioneers are often booked for corporate events and conferences to share their top tips for sustainable business practices. Take a look at our pick of the top five circular economy speakers available for events:
- Kate Brandt – Google’s Sustainability Officer
- Nigel Topping – High-Level Champion for Climate Action COP26
- Pia Heidenmark Cook – Senior Advisor & Former Chief Sustainability Officer of IKEA
- Peggy Liu – Named the ‘Green Goddess of China’
- Sally Uren – CEO of Forum for the Future
How do I book a climate champion?