What is Circular Economy and Why Should you Care About It

It is not uncommon for the concept of a circular economy to come up within the zero waste community. The structure and values of the system run parallel with the values of the lifestyle, it does make sense, but I don't often see it explained in such detail.

Today I am answering your questions on what it is, how it can benefit us, and more!

What is the circular economy?

A circular economy (also referred to as "circularity") can be described as an economic system that renews materials as much as possible in order to tackle global threats like climate change, natural resource depletion, waste management, biodiversity loss, and pollution. 

This is very different than a traditional linear economy in that it looks like a circle instead of a line. Instead of materials having an end destination of a landfill — the goal of a circular economy is to continue to renew and repurpose existing materials in order to utilize them the most effectively.


The principles of a circular economy

The central aim of a circular economy model is to eliminate waste. Circular economies are founded on the notion that waste does not exist. This is achieved by designing products that are built to last and have the capability to be disassembled and reused in a manner that is quick, convenient and makes them easy to repurpose and repair.

These are the basic principles needed to achieve a circular economy:

  1. Enhance systems' resilience in order to reduce resource dependency

  2. Follow nature’s lead to design these renewable systems

  3. Value natural resources above all — as permanent assets instead of expendable ones

The plan distinguishes between cycle systems involving technology and those involving biological processes. By following a biological cycle, a material can be reused and then returned to the system. The cycles regenerate living systems, like soil or oceans, which provide renewable resources to the economy. There's no waste in natural systems: every element plays a role continuously and is recycled. We need to do the same.

The technological system then helps to process products, components, and materials so they can be recovered, repaired, remanufactured, or recycled to keep in working order.

At its core, the circular economy seeks to maximize yields from resources in a continuous and sustainable manner by continually cycling resources at the highest possible level of usefulness at all times.

Why is a circular economy important?

The circular economy is important because it makes sure that all the resources are used and reused to reduce the impact on the environment.

Currently, resources, goods, and services are produced and managed in a way that promotes short-term consumption, leading the planet towards a detrimental future. The economic system in place now directly conflicts with nature and doesn't align long-term development based on environmental sustainability. There's no waste in natural systems: every element plays a role continuously and is recycled. We need to do the same.

Circular economies encourage people and organizations to use resources in an economy for as long as possible at maximum value.

Traditionally through manufacturing, a product's value increases the more materials, labor, and energy it takes to create. In a circular economy structure, the value of a product is preserved when used in a new way. This is a better solution to our current reliance on recycling since it takes significantly less energy, waste, and materials to reuse as opposed to destroy.

a circular economy and zero waste

A circular economy is virtually zero-waste because nothing goes to waste. The focus is on restoring and retaining the value of materials as much as possible by reusing, repairing, refurbishing, remanufacturing, and repurposing them.

Much like the zero-waste lifestyle, a circular economy emphasizes the creative and innovative use of the supply that is already in existence to fulfill a need. The activities to achieve this follows closely the zero waste 5 “r” principle: refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, and recycle.

The goal of circularity is also aligned with zero waste in that it prioritizes the health of our planet and the natural environment. Put simply, a circular economy can benefit our environment by:

  • Lowering greenhouse gas emissions

  • Reducing the need for new toxins and chemicals

  • Keeping waste out of the landfills

To learn more about how a circular economy and zero waste can benefit you personally, read: Benefits of Green Living and the Zero Waste Lifestyle

Is a circular economy even possible?

You might be wondering: How can this process play into the current system’s economic utility and growth? It does take a bit of an overhaul of the current economic value system. In order to see the sustainability of this system, you need to separate any connection between economic growth to resource consumption and replace it with new revenue sources.

The circular economy is possible but it just looks very different than our current linear system. In order to increase economic growth and GDP within a circular economy, it is necessary to increase revenues through circular activities. This is in conjunction with developing products from materials that are of higher quality and efficient due to their ease of deconstruction and repurposing.

The regenerative nature of this model enhances performance and reduces climate change's impact on businesses. A circular economy is possible by transforming the collective make-take-waste mindset, to one of smart design and renewal.

Everything about the circular economy

While I am well versed on the topic through my own research and experience within the zero-waste lifestyle, I am by no means an economist. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation is a charity dedicated to original research, educational resources, and advocating for the new economic system and its benefits.

Below I have listed a few articles from them on how the circular economy can contribute to resolving global challenges for those who are interested in learning more.

Hey, Claudia here

I am a senior graphic designer, a dog mom, an advocate for a zero-waste lifestyle, climate change, and sustainability. My articles are based on personal experience and well researched to give you the best source of information for all things zero-waste.