There is way more to circular economy than just recycling. Circular economy refers to running the economy like nature runs its own business. For instance, plants use carbon dioxide and nutrients to grow and produce oxygen. Animals use that oxygen. Then they create carbon dioxide and nutrients. There is no waste. It is a closed-loop system. In simple words, a circular economy means everything is healthy food for something else.
A circular economy is not about one manufacturer changing one product. It’s about all the interconnecting companies that form our infrastructure and economy coming together.
Sustainability is like a big puzzle. Creating a circular economy is only one piece of it. Other aspects should also be taken into account to get 100 percent sustainable. Some of the factors are:
- Climate change
- Sustainable energy
- Sustainable agriculture
- Social sustainability, and so on.
CIRCULAR ECONOMY VERSUS LINEAR ECONOMY
The circular economy is generally opposed to the linear economy (take-make-waste), which we have been running for many years. Some people also use the term cradle-to-cradle for a circular economy. And, they use the term cradle-to-grave for linear economy.
- Linear economy
We are living in a linear economy with a basic structure. We take natural things out of the earth. Then, turn them into products that we may use for a few minutes or, at best, several years. And after we finish using the product, we dispose of them. We either use incineration or throw them back into the ground as a landfill.
It is a waste of resources and money. Not to mention the detrimental effects are having on our environment. For some years, we heard that the answer is in the recycling economy. For instance, plastic products are collected and recycled. It takes a large amount of energy. Moreover, plastic can only be recycled until it becomes unrecyclable. Sometimes, this can be after just one use.
- Circular economy
Some materials can be reused or recycled an infinite amount of time, for example, glass. The bare necessities believes that the real solution is to become a circular economy. It suggests keeping things in continuous rotation. Now, at the landfill, we can drastically reduce our waste production. By making simple swaps like getting rid of plastic bottles, our vision can become a reality. Everyone benefits from it. From the tiniest animals to the enormous creatures and everything in between remain safe.
THINGS WE NEED IN CIRCULAR ECONOMY
We can split the things that we need to run into closed loops in two categories. They are:
- Technical materials
Technical materials have a typical life cycle. First, you mine the raw materials. Then, manufacture the product. After that, transport it for use until its end of life.
For instance, suppose your product needs copper. It is best to reuse copper that is not used anymore as opposed to mining some new ones from the ground. The reasons to do so are:
- Copper is on the verge of extinction.
- Processing recycled copper uses only 10 to 20% of the energy it takes to process new copper from virgin ore.
Also, when manufacturing the product, you can design it so it can easily be dismantled. This way, the copper can easily be recycled next time. Also, you can manufacture the product so it lasts longer. Then, it can be maintained and repaired. Similarly, you can design it so it uses as little energy as possible.
Once a product cannot be used anymore, it needs to be collected and recycled. Now, there can be many questions on the recycled material. Some of the queries that arise are:
- Does the recycled material maintain its quality to be used for the same application?
- Is it down-cycled and has a poorer quality?
For such questions, remember that in a circular economy, nothing goes to landfill.
- Biological materials
Biological materials are farmed or collected and then possibly processed and transported before reaching the customer. Once consumed, they can be used to create bio-gas, biochemical, or be composted. Thus, they go back to nature to restore it.
TRANSITION STRATEGIES TO CREATE A CIRCULAR ECONOMY
Two transition strategies can be helpful for a circular economy. They are:
You can use different resources to achieve the same result. This process is substitution. For example, there is a shortage of lithium in the world. So, unless we can recycle lithium batteries more efficiently, sodium-ion batteries might be a better option to manufacture cars.
Dematerialization refers to using less of a resource to serve the same economic function in a society. For instance, Interface is the world’s largest designer and maker of commercial modular carpet. But, they don’t sell the carpet anymore. Their customers buy the service of having carpet on their floor. Interface is in-charge of maintaining and repairing the carpet. They do that very efficiently because it is their specialty. Also, they control the entire process.
Also, using tiles, they can replace only the ones that need replacing. The old tiles go back to the factory to be recycled. And, the new tiles are made with 98 percent recycled or bio-based content. That is almost circular.