10 things you need to know about the circular economy

A working circular economy could be a practical solution to the planet's emerging resource problems. Here's 10 facts you should know.

A circular economy would decouple economic growth from resource consumption1. Why do we need one?
The circular economy is touted as a practical solution to the planet's emerging resource crunch. Reserves of key resources such as rare earth metals and minerals are diminishing, while exploration and material extraction costs are rising. The current 'take-make-dispose' linear economy approach results in massive waste - according to Richard Girling's book Rubbish! published in 2005, 90% of the raw materials used in manufacturing become waste before the product leaves the factory while 80% of products made get thrown away within the first six months of their life. This, coupled with growing tensions around geopolitics and supply risk, are contributing to volatile commodity prices. A circular economy could help stabilise some of these issues by decoupling economic growth from resource consumption.

2. It is more than just recycling
While substituting secondary materials for primary materials can offer a part solution, recycling offers limited appeal as its processes are energy-intensive and generally downgrade materials, leading to continuing high demand for virgin materials. The circular economy goes beyond recycling as it is based around a restorative industrial system geared towards designing out waste. This graphic from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation shows how recycling is an 'outer circle' of the circular economy, requiring more energy input than the 'inner circles' of repair, reuse and remanufacture. The goal is not just to design for better end-of-life recovery, but to minimise energy use.

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