Circular Economy vs. Take-Make-Consume-Dispose Mindset

With demand for resources increasing exponentially, experts sound warnings about looming shortages. Not only reserves of key elements -such as gold or silver- could be depleted within 50 years, but also arable surfaced would continue to disappear. Therefore, rethinking how our model functions is of high-priority.

Traditional business models are mostly built on the presumption of cheap, unlimited natural resources which manufacturers take to make products that are consumed and then disposed. This is our most spread system, the linear one. According to McKinsey (2014) there is a yearly 80% of unrecovered materials from the $3.2 trillion worth that are used in consumer goods. Efficiency would increase if consumers and organizations thought twice about the end of products’ lifecycles and how to extract the embedded costs of the materials within the products. What used to be regarded as “waste” can be turned into a resource. That is one of the basis of circular economy.

Circular economy is a generic term for a restorative industrial economic model. In this model, production of goods operates like a natural system: waste becomes the source of growth for something new. It stands from the basis that our systems should work like organisms, processing nutrients that can be fed back into the cycle, hence the “restorative” term used. This concept is a framework that takes insight from living systems and draws from a number of more specific approaches including biomimicry, industrial ecology and cradle to cradle.

Within this economic model, material flows are of two types, biological or technical. Biological nutrients are designed to re-enter the biosphere safely while technical nutrients are designed to circulate at high quality without entering the biosphere (Ellen McArthur Foundation, 2014). Optimising systems taking into account the materials involved, gives us an approach of the “design for fit” that this model aims.

The Circular Economy label can be applied to different schools of thought that share the same key principles. But it has been the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an independent charity established in 2010, who has lately created a framework for systems level re-design and at the same time outlined the opportunity of harnessing innovation through this restorative model.

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