What is a Circular Economy?

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A circular economy is the way forward from the outdated make, use and dispose ethos of the traditional linear economy. It could therefore also be referred to as the “modern economy” or the “environmental economy”.

In the circular economy we aim to keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use and then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.

Designing Out Waste

A circular economy aims to design waste out of the manufacturing system and promote recyclablity and recycling such that the manufacturing process relies less on the consumption of finite resources.

Furthermore it aims to build its’ foundation on the transition to renewable energy sources as a key premise for product design and manufacture. 

A modern economy is based on three main principles:

  1. Design out waste and pollution
  2. Keep products and materials in use
  3. Regenerate natural systems

Why Is a Circular Economy Important?

As well as creating new opportunities for growth, a more circular economy will:

  • reduce waste
  • drive greater resource productivity 
  • deliver a more competitive UK economy.
  • position the UK to better address emerging resource security/scarcity issues in the future. 
  • help reduce the environmental impacts of our production and consumption in both the UK and abroad. 

Good for users… and businesses !

In other economic models the financial aspects of the model prevail over the social or environmental factors. In a circular economy by comparison, improvements common to both businesses and consumers are implicitly designed in.

Companies that have implemented the principles of the circular economic system are proving that re-using resources is much more cost effective than always using new “virgin” product.

As a result, production prices are reduced, so the sale price can be lowered, thereby benefiting the consumer; not only economically, but also in social and environmental factors.

Principles of the Circular Economy

  • A true circular economy has zero waste. Nothing becomes waste because it is designed out (Eco Design) by developing products that can be repaired, dis-assembled or re-used.
  • Disposable and durable – the two types of raw materials to be used in product design and manufacture. Disposable: those that can bio-degrade, such as paper or fabric. Durable: those like metal or plastic that can be reused or recycled. Raw materials must be one or the other so that everything can be either re-used or put back into nature. More complex products should be designed to be dismantled so that they can be sorted into their Disposable and Durable components.
  • To be a sustainable system, the energy that powers manufacturing and recycling, needs to itself be entirely renewable to minimise businesses exposure to resource depletion etc.
  • Finally, customers will no longer be consumers, but users. Effectively renting the products until time to return to the manufacturer. This means that companies will want their products back when you’re done with them to extract the valuable resources contained within.

Further Reading

To find out more about the Circular Economy and how the UK is leading the way in developing such an economy for plastics please see:

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