What Is The Circular Economy?

What is the circular economy?

Taking The Non-Linear Approach

The circular economy, much like Mad Max‘s “Barter Town,” represents a model by which waste is not viewed as waste. Instead, it becomes a source of power or material for something else. In the case of Barter Town, it’s the pig poop that’s powering the last remnant of human civilization. Due to the need for energy (oil is a thing of the past), humans have figured out how to repurpose waste for power. It’s essentially a closed-loop system.

That’s pretty much the circular economy in a nutshell. It describes an amazing representation by which we can strive for zero waste. Much like the natural world itself. Rather than perpetuating the conventional means of manufacturing, we can adapt our operating models.

So instead of devising products for a single purpose (consumption), we can give greater attention to the product’s end-of-life. This implies a consideration for what happens after the product is used, assessing it for further opportunities. It means getting the maximum benefit from our precious resources.

Mad Max: Thunderdome's Bartertown represents a circular economy.
Bartertown is pretty much a closed-loop economy. Click the image for more details.

Designed For The Future

One excellent description is as follows, “the circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. Relying on system-wide innovation, it aims to redefine products and services to design waste out, while minimizing negative impacts. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural and social capital.” – Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Re-Think Waste

The Circular Economy Illustrated
Click the image for more…

Maximum Utility

This means that we can use more of what we create, more entirely. In addition, it encourages us to find better, more constructive uses for what is left. It’s brilliant concept, for whom we have the planet to thank.

Indeed, there’s so much to be learned from how nature manages things (see Biomimicry). When you pause to think about it, there really is no waste in nature. Any debris, refuse, or leftovers gets consumed by something else. That’s another excellent point to consider. Waste as food for something else.

The Circular Economy In Action

So the takeaway from nature, is to encourage design that doesn’t generate waste. Rather, it can become energy or inputs for something else. A practical example is the disposable bag made from cassava root. Created by some bright inventors out of Bali, these bags break down totally when they enter the environment. In fact, they can actually be consumed by wildlife.

Another example is urban rooftop growing. It can take advantage of under-utilized real estate, while leveraging the heating of the building/warehouse below. In return, providing insulation as well as locally sourced nutrition. 😉

These applications offer up but a taste of what a more developed circular economy could look like. Good design allows for the end products to eventually feed into the supply chain of other products. This in turn perpetuates the cycle. It can work to dramatically limit (if not outright eliminate) waste. It’s ingenious, and it actually works!!

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa of Mad Max: Fury Road.

Searching For Change

Thankfully, we are witnessing an increasing trend in the adoption of such practices. From zero waste groceries stores, and conscientious supply chains (see also World Economic Forum), to lean green architecture powered by renewable energy. Google, Adidas, and Ikea are some leading corporate examples of those who have been adopting and transitioning towards a circular economy.

The benefits are clear and tangible. Not only does it make sense on a social-humanitarian level, but it really does reflect good management and greater efficiency. It is however a cooperative effort. No single company can accomplish this on their own, it requires collective action and commitment.

Symbiosis Meme
Click for more on symbiosis.

Industrial Symbiosis

An existing example of the symbiotic practice, by which a residual product converts into a resource for another, is seen through the application of the Kalundborg Industrial Symbiosis. Named after the town in Denmark, this industrial symbiosis was achieved through complimentary operations and inputs between the town’s energy sector, manufacturing, and municipality (click here for more). It’s a tangible case proving that the circular economy can significantly cut down on carbon emissions.

If you continue digging around the internet, there are plenty of other examples as well. Although they do become quite detailed and industry specific, so I’ll cut it short here and explore this issue again in future postings. I’ll also try to be as clear as I can with my tags and heading, so as to help you find what you are looking for.

This topic is a fascinating one. I’m genuinely intrigued by its application and inspired by what I see. The circular economy represents the future. It’s a means by which business can continue to operate, but within the natural limitations of the environment. It is therefore the very definition of sustainability.

Mad Max Furiosa Motivation.

Moving Towards #FossilFree

Not only is it cool and cost effective, the circular economy offers us a better path forward. It’s a path we need to take. Given the rapid rate of environmental destruction and resource consumption, this needs to become a widespread reality. In time, we will no longer have a choice. We clearly need to change.

As a result, we can now decide to become early adopters and innovators in the circular economy. We can begin immediately by attempting to incorporate this was of thinking into our outlook. For those in management or aspiring to be, there’s plenty of opportunity! I’d encourage you to keep exploring this topic. To that effect, check out the brilliant TED Talk below.

Dame Ellen MacArthur – The Surprising Thing I Learned Sailing Solo Around the World

Dame Ellen MacArthur is a circular economy pioneer.

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