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What is a Circular Economy?

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

What is a Circular Economy

Following World War II, we began designing products to have a predetermined lifecycle. In essence, we designed them to be disposed of. At one point, durability and quality had been major selling points for products. Then big business decided that planned obsolescence would become a consideration for producing consumer goods.

The most obvious example is in fashion - trends come and go, and most clothes that no longer meet this trend are disposed of. Of course, trends are cyclical and fashion from 20 years ago suddenly becomes popular again, but how many of us hold on to unfashionable clothes for 20 years?

According to some reports, 99% of everything we buy will be discarded within six months.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out what this approach will do to our planet.

The traditional approach to producing goods is what is referred to as a linear model - we take something from the ground, make it into whatever we are making, and dispose of it once we are finished.

For decades this approach was taken in almost every industry you can think of. But in the last few decades, the concept of recycling has become more important, as we begin to comprehend the damage we’ve done to our environment, and the damage we continue to cause. It’s time to rethink how we produce, use and dispose of our goods.

It’s time for a circular economy.

Defining a Circular Economy

By definition, circular development is a model for production and consumption that focuses on sustainability by extending the life of a variety of inputs, keeping them in the economy for longer. At its core, it focuses on recycling and reusing, rather than always creating new products from non-renewable resources.

Compared to a more traditional linear economy, a circular economy aims to keep products, equipment, supplies and resources in use for longer, improving the productivity of those resources.

The circular economy

One of the key aspects of a circular economy is that both inputs and outputs should be reused. A traditional linear approach views by-products as waste, to be disposed of since they no longer have any use. Under a circular economy, waste and other externalities are viewed as an opportunity to create further inputs.

A perfect example of this can be seen on the farm, where manure is used as a natural fertiliser.

The circular economy is based on 7 principles:

  • Sustainable procurement - recognise the environmental and social impacts of acquiring resources for production, particularly in relation to extraction and exploitation.

  • Eco-design - consider the environmental impacts over the entire life of a product during the design stage.

  • Industrial and territorial ecology - where possible, work with other stakeholders (both production stakeholders, such as manufacturers, and geographical partners) to pool resources to optimise use.

  • The economy of functionality - favour use over possession.

  • Responsible consumption - consider the environmental and social impacts of consumption throughout the product lifecycle.

  • Extension of the lifespan - placing an emphasis on repairing where possible, and recycling when repair is not viable.

  • Improvement of waste prevention, management and recycling - seek to reinject products back into the economy.

The 3 Types of Circular Economy

Resource Recovery from Waste, a UK-based research program that collaborates between academia, government and industry, discovered that there are 3 major types of circular economies currently being used:

1. Energy from Waste

This model focuses on creating energy, in this case electricity, by burning discarded materials. In the UK, just under half of all the rubbish collected is burned to produce energy. While there are some benefits to this approach (cheap electricity), it doesn’t create as many jobs as recycling and it effectively wastes all the inputs that created the items being burned, not to mention all the greenhouse gases being released.

2. Circular economy based on recycling

This approach focuses on recycling items. While this approach is better than burning waste, the drawback is it doesn’t force us to change our purchasing habits. We continue to buy the same amount of items, which doesn’t promote sustainability.

A significant drawback to recycling is when we mix different types of the same item. For example, plastic can be created in many forms, and drink bottles often use different types for the bottle and lid. Separating them is difficult and time consuming, but when they mix in the recycling process, the resulting plastic is usually inferior.

3. A sustainable circular economy

For an economy to be truly sustainable, both the methods of production and consumption require change. If we can encourage individuals to reduce their purchasing and consumption, and reuse items as much as possible, we move towards true sustainability.

A sustainable economy requires a shift in thinking from the very start - designing goods that can be reused, repaired and easily recycled. This ensures the product retains its original purpose and function, and preserves the original inputs for reuse later.

The Goals of a Circular Economy

A circular economy has an overarching goal - to allow for the development of more sustainable systems. By emphasising the reduction of waste, the reuse of current resources and repurposing negative outputs of production processes, and keeping items in the economy for longer, the hope is to protect society from waste and ensure finite resources are used responsibly.

Further to this, a circular development approach has the potential to create new industries, sectors and employment opportunities. As we find new and innovative ways to recycle goods, and reuse waste from production processes, businesses are capitalising on investment opportunities and creating new jobs, stimulating the economy as well as protecting the environment.

A Circular Economy and Sustainability

It is natural to think that the concept of a circular economy is the same as sustainability, after all they both have very similar goals and aims.

However, the key difference is that sustainability is more interested in reducing the impact of our activities and cutting back waste, whereas the circular economy accepts these negative outputs as necessary to ongoing development, and looks for ways to reuse them.

A Circular Economy at Jersey Girl Organics

So, what does the circular economy mean to us?

As a certified organic farm, we take sustainability seriously. Everything we do is carefully planned to not only minimise the negative impact, but promote healthier outcomes.

Our refill service, where you can purchase a glass bottle of milk that you can return and refill, is one initiative we are proud of that helps move us closer towards a sustainable, circular economy.

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