We are living in a time where more than often, we take earth’s resources, make them into products and dispose of them once their useful life takes an end, in other words “linear economy”. Eventually, this type of economy can be detrimental, if not destructive, to the health of our ecosystems if we keep producing more products without controlling how much waste we put out to the environment. The amount of waste will continue to soar if we do not come up with innovative ways that can transform the way we produce and consume radically. So, “how do we go on through life by limiting our output of waste into the environment?” one might ask. Well, there is an alternative, that is, circular economy.
WHAT IS THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY?
Imagine this: you are at home, rinsing rice before cooking, and instead of throwing the rice water down into the drain, you take a sustainable approach and use it to water your plants. This example is only the smaller picture of what circular economy is, but I hope you get the gist.
In formal terms, the circular economy is where products and services go through a regenerative system to eliminate waste as much as possible and lose their value as little as possible. Experts in this field define this term in so many different ways; all stand on the same ground regardless. Some focus on resource-use, some system change. Reminder: the example mentioned before relates to resource use.
Resource-use takes on the 3-R approach: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It can range from thrifting, to using reusable straws, to re-purposing plastic food containers, to bringing reusable bags to grocery stores. On the other hand, system change focuses on three elements: closed cycles, renewable energy, and systems thinking.
IT’S GOOD FOR THE ECONOMY AND OF COURSE, THE ENVIRONMENT!
• The growth of our economy will no longer depend on the raw materials we have left.
• According to the United Nations Environmental Plan (UNEP), the global economy would gain $2 trillion a year from more effective resource use in 2050. By embracing the circular economy, the world can undoubtedly achieve this goal.
• Employment will grow more than ever! According to the World Economic Forum, the circular economy will provide more work, especially in entry-level and semi-skilled jobs.
• It challenges innovators to come up with new ideas that follow the circular economy rather than linear. It brings people from different areas of expertise together to better solve social challenges today and tomorrow.
• Companies who adopt the circular economy will inspire people to consume sustainably. They must set an example to the people!
• Now that we don’t need to import raw materials from the outside, we can potentially reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
• A circular approach will not disrupt the natural balance in our ecosystems. For example, we no longer have to dump toxic substances, such as artificial fertilizers, and we can recycle organic materials such as manure for composting.
• A stop to constant extraction and dumping will conserve nature reserves.
HOW IS CANADA DOING?
Well, as far as I can tell you, Canada is working on it. Businesses in Canada are already embracing the circular model, whether it be through buy-back programs or converting waste from pulp-and-paper mill into renewable bio-products. At the government level, it introduced a policy initiative called “Canada-Wide Action Plan on Zero Plastic Waste”, which details its goals to reduce plastic waste and promote reuse and value recovery. Don’t forget to check out the World Circular Economy that Toronto will be hosting in 2021!
HOW ARE BUSINESSES INTEGRATING CIRCULAR ECONOMY?
This example came first into mind because I learned about this company in my first-year environment and business class (a special shout-out to Prof. Michael Wood!). The company is known to be one of the business pioneers in the sustainable world. Through its “ReEntry” program, reclaimed flooring is used again as flooring or separated into component materials to become new products.
Based in the U.S., they make the impossible possible. They make it easier to recycle hard-to-recycle waste and turn them into new products. They even recycle cigarette butts, which is cool!
It came to me as a surprise, too, that the company adapts the model of circular economy. They take your old jeans, disintegrate them into the molecular level, and turn them into sweaters. The sweater, if not used anymore, will be broken down again and will be remade into jeans.
HOW CAN YOU JOIN THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY?
- If possible, repairing products instead of buying new ones.
- Take advantage of sharing programs, such as borrowing books in the library, renting bikes from bike shares, and movie and music streaming (e.g., Netflix and Spotify).
- Buy packaged-free products
- Buy products made of recycled materials
- Support companies that offer “take-back” programs, like Levi Strauss!
- Buy products from thrift stores
- Reuse or upcycle things you have around at home
- Organize a swap shop where people can drop clothes they don’t want anymore and swap them with something they like.
We finally have “closed the loop” about the circular economy and how it is a revolutionary movement towards a cleaner economy. It is time to change how we produce and consume products and services. Businesses can create more while generating the least waste as possible. Buyers can buy more without having to worry about damaging the environment. If you are the kind of person who cannot resist shopping, wouldn’t it better to buy recycled things made from old materials? However, “living lightly” should remain a personal mantra to declutter our space and mind!