Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have adopted a take-make-dispose linear model of how products are designed, manufactured, sold, consumed and discarded. 90 billion tons of primary materials are extracted and used globally. However, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (2019) only 9 per cent are recycled. This two-part series uncovers the benefits of circular economies, and how retail and commercial spaces can be optimized to support circular economies.
Part 1: Why circular economies?
Figure 1: Linear vs Circular Economy
The linear approach (Figure 1) is not sustainable as resources are finite and there are large amounts of waste produced, which in turn are associated with emissions of toxic substances, elimination of natural habitats, and a high energy and water consumption. The expansion of the human population and the global economy has resulted in 60% of the world’s major ecosystems that supplies food and other resources, being degraded or used unsustainably.
If the current usage rate continues, by 2050 we will need two earths to sustain human life (WWF: The Human Footprint). The reality is that resources are finite, and a circular model is fast becoming a way of life for consumers, retailers and governments around the globe.
How does the circular model differ from the linear approach?
The circular model (Figure 2) was designed on the premise of living systems: returning nutrients and waste back into the production cycle, and minimizing resource leakages by closing loops where reusable materials and energy are lost. The objective of a Circular economy is to maintain the value of resources in the economy for as long as possible.
Figure 2: The circular economy emulating the natural environment.
Unlike the linear model where resources are used and then discarded, the circular model is designed on three pillars (Ellen MacArthur Foundation): Design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and most importantly, regenerate natural systems.
Benefits of a circular economy
The benefits of a circular economy (Figure 3), in addition to the environmental benefits, include:
- Reduce pressure on the environment
- Ensure the long-term supply of natural resources and raw materials
- Reduce waste
- Greater resource productivity
- Increase in job creation through new innovation and designs
- A more competitive economy
- Improvement in response times to resource scarcity and global health issues.
Figure 3: Benefits of a circular economy.
What can you do to support a circular economy?
There are simple steps individuals can take to promote and support a circular economy:
- Consume less: particularly food, plastics and fast fashion clothing.
- Consume better: favour brands that are sustainable, incorporate more plant-based meals into your diet, and consider renting over outright purchases (e.g. jeans, large electronics).
- Avoid discarding unwanted clothing, electronics, furniture: where possible refurbish or donate to a worthy cause.
- Engage in recycling initiatives: use food waste to make compost, drop off plastics and paper waste at your nearest recycling depot (Read: 10 Green Tips for Working From Home)
Every mindful step towards a circular way of life will pay off in dividends, to both current and future generations. Making the transition to a circular economy is a challenge, but achievable. It requires commitment from governments, policy makers, corporates and civil society.
Through the Zero Waste Foundation, Don’t Waste aims to promote the circular model, and is working with the public and private sectors to promote sustainable practices by supporting alternatives to landfill (thereby reducing waste), organize and facilitate clean-up initiatives and promote public recycling.
Follow our page to read Part 2 of our Circular Economy series, where we discuss “How do we optimize retail and commercial spaces to support circular economies in cities?”
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