In our current state of seemingly infinite waste, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, designing waste out of the system. It is based on three principles: design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems. 

In a linear economy, raw natural resources are taken, transformed into products and then disposed of. A circular economy on the other hand, aims to close the gap between the production and the natural ecosystems’ cycle. It means incorporating the above principles into waste management systems, but it also means cutting off the use of chemical substances and investing in renewable energy.

The Concept of a Circular Economy 

In a circular economy, economic activity builds and rebuilds overall system health. It doesn’t only entail reducing the negative effects of a linear economy, but it represents a systemic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.

Principles: Energy and Resources 

A circular economy aims to design out waste. To achieve this, products are designed to last and are optimised for a cycle of disassembly. They are then reused to make it easier to handle or transform them. The ultimate goal is to preserve and enhance natural capital by controlling finite stocks and balancing renewable resources flows.

In early March 2020, the EU released its Circular Economy Action Plan which requires manufacturers to make products that last longer and are easier to repair, use and recycle. Taking effect in 2021, the plan is a part of the EU’s targets to become a climate-neutral economy by 2050 as outlined in its New Green Deal.

In February 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the new circular economy action plan demanding additional measures to achieve a carbon-neutral, environmentally sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy by 2050, including tighter recycling rules and binding targets for materials use and consumption by 2030.

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Principles: Following Nature’s Cycles And Designs

The circular economy model distinguishes between technical and biological cycles. Consumption happens only in biological cycles, where biologically-based materials (such as food, linen or cork) are designed to feed back into the system through processes like anaerobic digestion and composting.

These cycles regenerate living systems, such as soil or the oceans, which provide renewable resources for the economy. By their turn, technical cycles recover and restore products (e.g. washing machines), components (e.g. motherboards), and materials (e.g. limestone) through strategies like reuse, repair, remanufacture or recycling.

Principles: Renewable Energies

The last principle of a circular economy has to do with the fact that the energy required to fuel this cycle should be renewable by nature, with the purpose of decreasing resource dependence and increasing systems’ resilience

Benefits of a Circular Economy

Environmental benefits include:

Economic benefits include:

What are the Barriers to Circularity?

In our current economic system, there are some barriers to the implementation of a circular economy model, including: