Nowadays, our economy is called Linear Economy which is based on a take-make-use-dispose approach. As the economy grows, we need more raw materials for the production of more goods and we produce more waste. This isn’t a big problem as long as the economy is relatively small compared to our natural ecosystem. However, the natural ecosystem is the source of raw materials and the “landfill” for our waste (1). Consequently, it is not a sustainable model in a long term. In general, there are three main reasons for this:
1) Resources like fossil fuels, food and water are increasingly hard to get in a good quality.
2) Biodiversity is in decline worldwide and these ecological services seem to be taken for granted.
3) The financial system almost crashes the entire economy due to fluctuating prices of goods and indebtedness situations.
Linear economy depends upon cheap energy, cheap materials and cheap credit actually. The petroleum revolution or the “Industrial Revolution” was an unbelievable situation without precedents and the price of oil was around 20 dollars a barrel or less. Materials were in abundance because the war effort has upped the production of all sorts of metals and plastics, among others. As a consequence, the idea of producing lots of stuff, making it available, making it cheap. However, if people couldn’t afford it there would be a higher purchase which was a way of buying on credits. Nowadays the situation is similar but there are changes in our life and our economy (3).
An alternative approach for this Linear Economy is called Circular Economy. In a circular economy we can reuse, re-manufacture and recycle products (2). In fact, it is a make/remake- use/reuse approach. As a result of that, it isn’t about selling and forgetting goods but thinking about new opportunities for these products. This type of economy aims to radically limit the extraction of raw materials and the production of waste because it recovers and reuses as many of the products and materials as possible over and over again. The principles of circular economy are:
- Waste equals food: it is like a food chain. In this there isn’t such thing as waste in living systems. In fact, one specie waste becomes another species food. If we redesigned products, they would be reused and disassembled at the end of their lifespan.
- Build resilience through biodiversity: living systems are biodiverse and many species contribute to overall health of a system. It is a general sense that greater biodiversity supports a shock of a system. If we had a big pool of resources to draw on, we would be able to bounce back from disruptive events.
- Use energy from renewable sources: living systems are powered by renewable sources.
- We need to think in systems or in other words, “rethinking”: a circular economy is related to many actors working together to create effective flows of materials and information. We need to think in systems for a connection between people, places and ideas(1).
Re-thinking and redesigning products, components and the packaging of these is a first step for the change. For example products such as mobile phones or washing machines, among others, aren’t biodegrade. Consequently, we need another sort of rethink, a way to cycle valuable metals, polymers and alloys so they maintain their quality and continue to be useful beyond the self life of individual products (4). However, it isn’t only a change in our products but also our “life routine” or in other words commercial sense. A potential solution is throwing away and replacing our culture and we adopt a return and renewed one, where products and components are designed to be disassembled and regenerated (1).
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2013). Towards the Circular Economy
- Korhonen, J., Honkasalo, A., Seppälä, J. (2018). Circular Economy: The Concept and its Limitations. Ecological Economics 143: 37-46
- Sariatli, F. (2017). Linear Economy Versus Circular Economy: A Comparative and Analyzer Study for Optimization of Economy for Sustainability 6(1): 31-34
- Kyro, R-K. (2020). Share, Preserve, Adapt, Rethink – A focused framework for circular economy. Conf. Ser.: Earth Environ. Sci. 588 042034