What would a circular economy look like? Have we already embraced a circular economy or is it a theoretical pie-in-the-sky approach that is unattainable? Think beyond the “take, make and dispose” industrial model and imagine an economy that promotes greater resource productivity, one that reduces waste and avoids pollution by expanding on the cradle to cradle approach. This is termed the circular economy system, which sets an outline of how to create a circular flow of materials and energy.
The circular economy is restorative and regenerative in its design. This model aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value. With a circular economy, products no longer have a life cycle with a beginning middle and end. To predict sustainable management, the positive and negative impacts of a material's life cycle is analyzed as they are produced and consumed. GreenBlue and SPC use this circular design tool to evaluate how materials move within a system and how they can impact the environment. To use materials wisely, it is key to recover value from the material because the outputs may not be useful in one specific industrial system, but may be in another.
The Circular Economy operates on three principles. Principle 1 is to preserve and enhance natural capital. This is done by controlling finite resources and stabilizing the flow of renewable resources. When resources are needed, the circular system chooses wisely and only utilizes technologies with renewable or optimized resources. Natural capital is enhanced by encouraging nutrient flow within the system and creating conditions for regeneration such as soil for renewable resources.
Principle 2 is to optimize resource yields. In order to keep a circular economy afloat, products, components, and materials need to be circulated at the highest utility. This means that the system is looked at as a whole and designed to be created as a circular system, rather than each individual component being separate from the next. This circulation applies to both the technical and biological cycles.
Principle 3 is to foster system effectiveness. This is done by revealing and getting rid of negative side effects from designs and productions. Reduce damage to human utility such as food, shelter, and health. This also includes managing side effects such as land use, air and water pollution and the release of toxic substances. A company that works to eliminate negative side effects is Johnson & Johnson - they implemented the GAIA (Global Aquatic Ingredient Assessment) tool that creates environmental “scores” on the commonly used ingredients within their materials.
As a result, the circular economy is gaining interest with a steady momentum as companies realize the need to manage materials and resources. It is being embraced by some companies, but more companies need to rethink their current processes and adapt to this way of sustainable thinking.
Learn more about this topic in our Sustainable Packaging course!