Recently, I sat at my laptop and was brainstorming some new blog post ideas. Within sustainability and eco-friendly circles, I feel like there’s a disconnect in the language we use. There are terms used on a regular basis which might not be understood by the average Joe walking down the street.
It can be alienating to have these terms thrown at you from all directions if you haven’t had the opportunity or the time to research them. So I’ve decided to start a “Made Easy” series. Think “for dummies” but without the copyright infringement.
If you follow an eco-conscious account or two on social media *cough* hello *cough*, you might recognise the term ‘circular economy’. But what the hell is it, and what does it mean?
I’m going to break it down in such a simple way, that even your dog would understand. Or cat, chipmunk, bunny rabbit. Whatever pet tickles your fancy.
Oh, I’ve included handy diagrams too. Feel free to share them on social media!
As far as I’m aware, there are three main types of “economy”. Linear, recycling, and circular.
In order to understand one, it’s important to be aware of what the others are. A linear economy is the one which we currently operate in (for the most part). In a linear economy, we manufacture products from raw materials, use those products, and then dispose of them.
Items such as face wipes, plastic water bottles, and tin foil all fall under this label. They’re made to be used once, or a handful of times, and ultimately thrown away.
In addition to linear, we also partly operate under a recycling economy. While this is a good idea, it’s proven not to be the best option in practice.
A recycling economy is where we manufacture products from raw materials, use them, then recycle what we can and whatever cannot be recycled goes to waste.
As I mentioned previously, this isn’t the best option simply because we’re left with an excess of products to be recycled. National Geographic estimates that only 9% of all plastic ever produced has actually been recycled.
This is the best option when it comes to sustainability, and one that many brands and businesses are adopting. Especially in light of the climate crisis.
When trying to be ‘circular’, products are manufactured from raw materials, sold and used, then whatever remains is reused, repaired, or recycled. Everything is used to it’s full potential, and no waste goes to landfill.
This is what is being referred to when people mention “going circular”. It’s simply the process of producing and using products until they can be used no more, then repurposing them.
When talking sustainability, knowing the different economy types is important. It allows you to determine how sustainable certain businesses and practices are.
An example of a business with a linear/recycling economy approach would be a single-use plastic water bottle manufacturer. They use raw materials to produce plastic water bottles, they’re sold at retailers worldwide, and then any waste inevitably goes to landfill.
If you’re going to rate each economy in terms of sustainability, it would be like this… Linear (least), recycling (low-mid), and circular (most).
So now we know why a circular economy is the best possible option, how do we achieve/work towards it?
1 // Responsible sourcing. You’ve got to tackle the issues right at the source of production. What raw materials are being sourced, how, and is it being done ethically or sustainably?
2 // Packaging. Options for recyclable and biodegradable packaging are endless. Bonus points if it can be composted at home! Don’t forget the product itself – does it really need packaging? Or could it go naked? Lush Cosmetics are a great example of where naked products are becoming the norm.
3 // Product quality. Higher quality products are going to stand the test of time. Poorly produced products made from cheap materials are more likely to break easily and get thrown away. Look at the McDonald’s toys as an example. Cheap, poor quality plastic toys that often get discarded the same day.
4 // Opportunities for reuse and repair. Once a product has been used to it’s full extent, there should be an opportunity to repair. Many brands are beginning to offer bespoke repairing services for a small fee. This eliminates the need to throw the old item away in exchange for a newer model.
5 // Making it available. In order for a circular economy to work for the masses, it has to be readily available. Instead of making it a bougie lifestyle choice, it must become the norm. Something that your average Joe on the street can partake in.
What can we do as consumers to support a circular economy? While it may seem like we don’t have many options, there are a few things we can do to move ourselves away from linear economy practices.
1 // Buy better. Invest in high quality products that will last. Bonus points if they’re ethically and sustainably sourced!
2 // Buy less. Do you really need another denim jacket? Should we get another takeaway this week or could we just make something at home?
3 // Ask questions. Reach out to your favourite brands and businesses! Be polite, and get curious. What efforts are they making? Do they have sustainable plans for the future? Transparency is key.
Hopefully this will have cleared up a few questions surrounding circular economy! What do you think about the first instalment of “Made Easy”?
Let me know on your favourite social media platform (I have them all), or leave a comment below!
I'm Elen Mai, the brains behind Welsh Wanderer and 20-something human biology student from (you guessed it) Wales! Welsh Wanderer is designed with the eco-conscious adventurer in mind. So stick around for tips & tricks on living sustainably.