What is a circular economy?
In summary, in a linear economy system, the products are designed, manufactured, used, and thrown away so that we can speak about our current economy as a take-make-waste economy.
In this approach, the vast amount of raw resources extracted from the Earth is loosed forever – and even more harmful; most processes related to the manufacturing, use, and disposal of the product cause and support climate change, plastic pollution, and other negative environmental impacts. Furthermore, the huge problem is that our resources are not endless, and the everlasting extraction of precious resources like ores is causing substantial negative environmental impacts that are often non-reversible.
That is when the circular economy comes in. Contrary to a linear economy, a circular economy functions like nature.
Nature uses all resources over and over, and there exists no concept of waste. Everything that is not in use becomes food and nutrients for another organism. These are perfect endless circles of resources. So, like in nature, in a perfect circular economy, all used and needed resources remain in closed loops and are used forever and ever. In theory, materials, parts, and products are created once and then used over and over; companies share resources, and waste becomes “food,” which means resources for another company or usage. You can see in the graphic that materials or parts can return to different stages of the resource circle. For example, parts of a used computer can be reused for another electronic device, or a chair can be upholstered and used again. All used energy is renewable energy. So nothing is wasted, and there is no need to extract more and more new resources. Doesn’t this sound great? Yes, and many countries and companies have already adopted the concept of a circular economy in their sustainability strategies. Still, the transition has many obstacles, such as a lack of knowledge or infrastructure. And not least, everything needs to be redesigned to work in a circular economy.