In the existing system, we take resources from the Earth, turn them into products, and then finally discard them as garbage. Contrarily, in a circular economy, waste generation is avoided altogether. The circular economy is founded on three main concepts: Eliminating waste and pollution, Circulating products and materials (at their highest value) and Regenerating nature.
The primary principle of the circular economy is the eradication of waste and pollution. Our economy now operates on a take-make-waste basis. We use the Earth’s resources as raw materials to create things, then we discard the finished items as waste. Most of this garbage is lost when it is disposed of in landfills or incinerators. Because the resources on our planet are limited, this system cannot function in the long run.
From linear to circular
Waste may be viewed as a design problem if we adopt a different mentality. A need for any design in a circular economy is that the materials re-enter the economy after being used. In doing so, we convert the take-make-waste system from linear to circular.
Many items might be shared, mended, refurbished, remanufactured, and, as the last option, recycled while being kept up and maintained. Regenerating the soil with food and other biological materials that are safe to reintroduce to nature can help produce fresh food and resources. We can do away with the idea of waste by concentrating on design.
Circulate products and materials
Circulating goods and materials at their peak value is the circular economy’s second tenet. Maintaining materials in use entails employing them as a product, as components, or as raw materials if that is no longer practicable. Nothing is wasted in this manner, and resources and goods maintain their inherent worth.
There are many methods to keep resources and things moving, but it may be helpful to think about two fundamental cycles: the biological cycle and the technical cycle. Products go through the technological cycle, which includes reuse, repair, remanufacturing, and recycling. Through procedures like composting and anaerobic digestion, biodegradable materials are recycled back into the environment as part of the biological cycle.
Products must be created with eventual circulation in mind if they are to effectively circulate in either the biological cycle or the technological cycle. In the contemporary economy, there are a lot of goods that are wasted since they cannot be recycled in either cycle. There are certain things that combine technological and biological ingredients in a way that prevents us from being able to separate and circulate them, such as fabrics that combine natural and synthetic fibers.
If product designers had considered how their product may fit into the biological or technological cycles after usage, the product might have been created with that future course in mind. For instance, items intended for technical cycles would profit from being simple to disassemble, simple to maintain, and constructed of replaceable modular components. They could be strong enough to resist abuse from several users. Additionally, they could be composed of materials that are simple to recycle.
Maintaining and reusing things is the best approach to keeping their worth. Consider a phone as an example. As a phone, it is significantly more valuable than as a collection of parts and materials. Therefore, the early phases in the technical cycle are concentrated on maintaining items in their whole to preserve the most value feasible. This might include sharing-based economic models. They allow consumers to access a product rather than own it, allowing more people to utilize it over time. It can entail recycling through resale. It could refer to cycles of upkeep, restoration, and remodeling.
When the product eventually becomes unusable, its parts can be remanufactured. It is possible to separate parts that cannot be remanufactured into their constituent materials and recycled.
In the biological cycle, biodegradable materials that cannot be recycled, such as some food leftovers, can be recycled back into the economy. Important minerals like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients may be utilized to rejuvenate the soil so that we can grow more food or renewable materials like cotton and wood by composting or anaerobically digesting organic waste.
Certain goods, such as cotton clothes and wooden furniture, can be recycled both in the technological and biological cycles. Even though they can occasionally be recycled, they can eventually be put back into the same biological cycle from which they were taken. They can nourish the soil to produce new cotton or timber when they are composted or anaerobically digested.
Regeneration of nature is the circular economy’s third tenet. A circular economy, as opposed to a take-make-waste linear economy, supports natural processes and creates more space for nature to flourish. cultivate fresh wood or cotton.
Regeneration follows extraction
We change the emphasis from extraction to regeneration by converting our economy from linear to circular. Create natural capital rather than perpetually destroying nature. We use agricultural techniques that let nature regenerate soils, boost biodiversity, and replenish the soil with biological resources. The land utilized to cultivate them is currently depleted of nutrients. The majority of these resources are lost after usage.
We start to resemble natural systems if we switch to a regenerative paradigm. In nature, there is no waste. The forest receives nourishment from a leaf that falls from a tree. Natural systems have self-regenerated over billions of years. Humans invented waste.
Utilizing exclusively renewable energy will only result in a 55% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions. The circular economy comes into play here as it relates to how we produce, use, and manage land. By 2050, a circular economy for food alone will generate economic, health, and environmental advantages of USD 2.7 trillion annually. The food industry’s anticipated greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 might be cut in half by using circular economy concepts.
“In the permaculture economy, recycling isn’t good enough. It’s more about upcycling – because as resources cycle through the system, they should continue to add greater value to the system.”
― Hendrith Vanlon Smith Jr, CEO of Mayflower-Plymouth