Our current linear economy follows a “take-make-dispose” approach: Raw materials are collected, transformed into saleable, usable products, and then discarded as ‘waste’. Money is created in this system by selling as many products as possible. This linear economy, however, is rapidly steering us off the edge of a cliff, towards huge temperature increases above global pre-industrial levels. If we continue with this business-as-usual, we will emit 65 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2030.
In comparison, a circular economy consciously designs products and services which minimise waste and pollution, and which actively regenerate nature. Underpinning these principles is a rapid transition to renewable energy and towards materials that can readily be recovered and reused.
Catherine Weetman of Rethink Global highlights companies that have adopted circular principles by designing to keep things in use for longer. Having durable, repairable and upgradable products, means we don’t throw things away as often. If more people used the same item by sharing, renting or paying per use, we could reduce the amount of goods manufactured. Materials can be disassembled to use again.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s report “Completing the Picture – How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change” concludes that moving to renewables can address over half of all greenhouse gas emissions. By using circular principles in the five sectors of food, plastics, steel, aluminium and cement, it is estimated that emissions can be reduced by 9.3 billion tonnes. Sadly, despite its huge potential, the circular economy was not even given a mention in the COP26 Climate Pact.
My work with the African Circular Economy Network has emphasised that circular principles can be applied to help relieve poverty, create employment, protect bio-diversity and establish resilient communities in emerging economies who have contributed least to the climate problem, but are the worst affected.
Small Sussex organisations already embracing circularity include: Ruby Moon, HISBE, Scrapless, Fill Good, FareShare, and Freegle, while examples of global companies embracing these ideas include: Unilever, Dell, Renault, IKEA and Philips. They are all realising that it is good for profit as well as the planet.
Are we moving towards a circular economy quickly enough? According to Circle Economy’s 2021 Circularity Gap Report we have reached a bleak milestone of 100 billion tonnes of materials entering the global economy every year. Shockingly, even less than the previous two years (only about 9%) of this was cycled back into the economy.
So, the circular economy is certainly part of the solution to climate change and is a guide to more sustainable living wherever you are in the world. Let’s start here in Sussex and question the life cycle of what we buy every day.
Find out more about Fairer World Lindfield here.