image of the earth with green arrows circling it

Most people know what an economy is and have a basic understanding of how it works. However, the relationship between our economy and the environment can be complicated and infinitely interconnected in ways that we don’t often think about. In a world that is facing many environmental challenges, we need to stretch our minds and invest in economic practices that allow us to live in better balance with the planet.

This is what a circular economy aims to do.

What is a Circular Economy?

A circular economy is a system that aims to reduce, or ideally eliminate, waste. In addition, it is an economy that makes the most out of its resources to reduce waste and inefficiency  – a win-win for the planet and our bank accounts.

Not only does a circular economy aim to conserve natural resources, but it also encourages reuse, recycling, and innovation for longer product life, among other actions. The common phrase Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is essentially the idea of a circular economy.

Those economies adopting these approaches are often referred to as regenerative economies. They minimize use of materials that would not be able to be reused, so every output of the system can re-enter as an input.

Why Do We Need It?

Now that we’ve discussed what a circular economy is, why is it important? The world currently produces 2.01 billion metric tons of municipal solid waste annually. Unfortunately, this is predicted to rise by 70% by 2050 unless we start embracing a significant cultural shift. Circular economies would reduce this wastefulness. In 2018, the first Circularity Gap Report found that the world is only 9.1% circular, so we’ve got a long way to go. The ideal situation would be to get to zero waste, but we know humans aren’t perfect and are not ready to completely upend comfortable habits.

Everyone gains from a circular economy through sustainability, business and economic opportunities, and environmental and social benefits. Not only do circular economies reduce greenhouse emissions, but it has also been shown that they can save our companies billions. Newly implemented practices could create jobs, therefore boosting economic growth. A push for zero-waste will lead to innovation within production, often increasing competitiveness. Sectors such as the car industry, the home appliance industry, and the electronics industry would greatly benefit from circular economies, especially if products can be recycled or reused to build future products.

Consumers will benefit from products that last longer rather than breaking down within a short period of time. This improves their quality of life and will eventually save them money as they will buy new products less frequently.

Bringing the Circular Economy Into Our Sphere

The problem may seem huge, but if we work together we can make solutions a reality. To create a circular economy, we need to focus on renewable resources, renewable energy, and waste management practices.

One area where circular economies would reduce waste is in the use of plastics. Plastics are currently either incinerated, sent to the landfill, or eventually end up in the ocean. This means that they’re either producing harmful emissions, adding to waste, or killing oceanic wildlife. This is why we should be supporting organizations like BioCellection, a company that works to upcycle hard-to-recycle plastics, and Upstream Solutions, an organization which aims to create alternative uses for plastics that are typically thrown away.

Beyond these large-scale solutions, there are simple changes that anyone can make. A transition to renewable energy sources, reduction in purchasing of single-use plastics, and reducing waste wherever possible makes a huge difference. Many have transitioned to composting and using compostable packaging to generate less waste. Electronics can be recycled in safe ways rather than thrown away. If you would like to see a waste-free lifestyle in action, Katherine Kellogg’s blog Going Zero Waste shares how to transition to a zero-waste lifestyle as well as her own experience living it. For a perspective on how going waste free can benefit the world and delight your stomach, check out Anne-Marie Bonneau’s blog Zero-Waste Chef. Going zero-waste can be tasty and energizing!

We live in a waste-filled world facing many challenges. We only have one planet home (so far!) and it’s up to us to take care of it. If we all do our part to adopt circular economy practices we will all benefit. If we all make simple changes to our everyday lives (micro-actions) and work to support organizations prioritizing these efforts on the grand-scale (macro-actions), we can make our world cleaner, safer, and more sustainable for ourselves and for generations to come.