The Circular Economy Is Here

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Whatever side of the world we are living on, there is one factor that we have in common: all our economies are linear. That is, we dig things out of the ground, turn them into products that last from minutes to a few years, and then stick them back into the ground as landfill. This wastes resources and money, and harms the environment through both extraction and disposal. Though we can minimise our use of resources, we will still need raw materials to make the products we consume. So how do we avoid environmental impact, reduce our exposure to volatile and rising commodity prices, and capture the valuable materials which we currently pay to dispose of? Well, we could do so through a circular economy, which captures materials so that goods are remanufactured or reused to become tomorrow’s goods, rather than landfill. The circular economy is a restorative or regenerative system by intention and design.

It is what will be needed as the rising economies in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East are expected to lift three billion people out of poverty in the next few decades. This in itself is likely to create an ever-increasing demand for consumer goods. We know, without a doubt, that the planet cannot sustain this surge in economic activity or the use of resources. Governments around the world are facing the challenge of addressing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. Plus, in spite of limited improvements in energy efficiency and resource productivity in recent years, the overall resource consumption and waste has continued to increase. We need a new more environmentally positive business model.

So, let’s go to China. Here, the government is aiming to maintain rapid economic growth over the coming decades while simultaneously improving environmental quality and maintaining social progress. It is widely recognised that these ambitious objectives cannot be met without employing innovative development pathways rather than conventional approaches taken in many developed countries. China’s National Development and Reform Commission states, “It's imperative for China to speed up developing the circular economy as the country sees continuously growing energy and resource demand, piling waste and rising pressure in tackling climate changes.”

Hence, the Chinese 'Circular Economy' initiative is a Sustainable Consumption and Production program that strives to meet these challenges through cleaner production, industrial ecology and life-cycle management. It seeks to boost the nation’s recycling industry so that it is worth 1.8 trillion Yuan (£183 billion) by 2015.

In the U.K. the Ellen MacArthur Foundation supports educators to teach and explore the circular economy and runs a Google+ group where participants share ideas, resources, engage in debate around issues related to the circular economy in schools, colleges and universities. This online community of educators wants to share and discover resources with teachers globally and discuss the impact the ideas have on learners. We need to start to recognise that re-use is so much more efficient than recycling and that the circular economy is not an option, it is a necessity. 

Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

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