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July 03, 2022 4 min read

Just a quick note to say welcome! If you are returning to the blog or are visiting for the first time, welcome! I’m excited for you to be here.

Sustainable Sundays will bring you bite-sized sustainability content straight to your inbox every Sunday. Designed to keep all of us, myself included, engaged, empowered and optimistic about protecting our planet and all of us who live here. Back by science and engineering (peer-reviewed articles & reputable news sources only), we will aim to provide accurate and timely information, and include actionable items to engage in living a more sustainable life.

Okay, let’s get into it.

Today we’re talking about all things circular economy: What is it, why does it matter and what are we meant to do with this information.

  • In a circular economy, products can be used again and again.
  • This reduces our use of precious raw materials, minimises waste and cuts CO2 emissions.

The way we live now is using 60% more resources than the Earth can provide and is creating an unmanageable amount of waste. 

A circular economy has widely been considered the way forward.

What is the circular economy?

This term has been thrown around quite a bit lately, and one thing that I’ve discovered is that is has a multitude of different definitions. This was one that I think sums it up nicely:

In a circular economy, resource use is improved by minimising the extraction of natural resources, maximising waste prevention, and optimising the environmental, social, material and economic values throughout the lifecycles of materials, components and products (Velenturf, 2021).

Another way of thinking about it at a simpler level is doing more with less. Think sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials to get the most value of existing products and materials.

Why is it important?
The shift towards a circular economy is important for several reasons. 

  1. We are using up finite raw materials. According to the UN, should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.
  2. We are creating an unmanageable amount of waste. Each year, an estimated one third of all food produced – equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes worth around $1 trillion – ends up rotting in the bins of consumers and retailers, or spoiling due to poor transportation and harvesting practices. (UN, 2022)
  3. Extracting and processing raw materials impacts the environment and increases energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
  4. A circular economy could unlock $4.5 trillion of value by 2030, according to a report by Accenture.

    What am I meant to do with this information?

    Knowing about why shifting towards a circular economy is so important can help empower us as consumers to make more thoughtful and beneficial decisions for the environment. In a time where the word sustainability is used a lot and often at surface value.. thinking about the principles of a circular economy allows us to think critically about the products we buy and whether or not they are truly ''sustainable'. 

    Some things to ask yourself before purchasing something new:

    • Do I need this? A classic, but a goodie.
    • Can I borrow this from someone or somewhere instead (also good to save $)
    • Is this mass-produced? What happens to the waste? I.e. fast-fashion
    • What is the packaging? Can I dispose of this properly e.g. if it's compostable, do I have the means to compost it?
    • Why is this actually sustainable? E.g. if a swimwear brand is saying that it's made from recycled fishing nets and therefore it is an eco-friendly brand.. how much of the fabric is actually recycled? If it's still mass-produced and creates a huge amount of waste, is it actually sustainable?
    • How long am I expecting this to last? Is there a better quality option that will last longer?
    • Does the company have information on where/who/how the products are produced? Do they have an externally verified sustainability report?
    • Is production responsible?
    • What do I do with it when I no longer want it and how would I dispose of it? Does the company have a buy-back policy? Stay tuned for the upcoming blog on the cradle-to-grave concept!
    • What happens if it becomes damaged? Does the company have ways to repair/fix the items? Patagonia for example has a lifetime guarantee on products where they will offer fun patch-ups. 
    • And once again - do I need this?

    All in all, it comes down to three principles: consume less, consume better and send a message when your purchase, that we as consumers value the environment and want to see a shift towards a circular economy.

    Consumers can only do so much when the entire economy is built on the take-make-waste model. What we need is systemic change, so that sustainability doesn't only depend on consumer choices.

    Making the shift to a circular economy won't be easy. But the reward; a world where people, nature, and economies can all thrive, will be well worth it.

     



    References: 

    https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-consumption-production/

    https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/06/what-is-the-circular-economy/

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352550921000567#bib0050

    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11367-020-01856-z

    https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/10/7-surprising-facts-to-know-about-the-circular-economy-for-cop26/

    https://www.wri.org/insights/how-build-circular-economy


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