During my studies in economics, I came across the idea of the Circular Economy which I believe will play an essential role in our society moving towards a more sustainable future.
Currently, our economy follows a linear economic model which takes a “take-make-dispose'' approach to supplying, using and disposing goods. This means that raw materials like fossil fuels are extracted at unsustainable rates and used to produce goods. After the goods are used by consumers like me and you, they are thrown away. The average person in the UK produces 500kg of waste annually. Most of the waste that we produce ends up being incinerated or in landfills where it is buried under the ground or forms mounds of waste above the ground. Waste also ends up in fragile habitats like oceans where it can lead to the decline of wildlife population sizes and jeopardises the survival of entire ecosystems. However, what if this waste could be redirected, repurposed and reused to create new products? What if this continual extraction of raw materials could be ceased? These are some of the key notions at the foundation of a circular economic system.
A circular economy aims to cease waste creation and the unsustainable use of finite raw resources. The waste of one product is recycled and acts as inputs for another production loop. For example, plastic packaging may be recycled to form pellets which can be used to produce new plastic products creating a closed-loop system which minimises pollution and emissions. As many groups and academics including the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Kate Raworth have suggested, the circular economy is “regenerative and distributive” and can ensure that the social foundation for society (the basic needs) are met while remaining within planetary (ecological) boundaries.
In order for our economy to shift to a more circular one systemic change is essential. Policies that incentivise firms to use recycled materials and to decrease their use of virgin raw materials is required. A more thorough and efficient recycling system must be established and international cooperation agreements can mean that the flow of waste can be more efficiently redirected and recycled.
Though, this shift will be gradual there are many steps outlined below that you can take:
Become more aware of how the products you consume where produced
Support brands that use recycled materials and produce their goods sustainably
Ensure that you recycle any packaging and materials after you use them
Place pressure on local MPs and governments to design policies that encourage a more circular economy
Hopefully we can start to shape our future, a much more sustainable one!