What if, instead of throwing away, we repaired, recycled, reused? The circular economy proposes to rethink our production and consumption methods in order to optimize the use of natural resources and thus limit the waste generated.
What is a circular economy?
The circular economy can be defined as an economic model (production and trade) which, ideally, operates in a loop and systematically reuses the waste generated. In practice, it aims to limit as much as possible the consumption of raw materials, water, and the use of non-renewable energies, while providing, from the design of the product (good or service), for optimal durability and reuse or recycling of materials at the end of their life cycle.
Its ultimate objective is to achieve the decoupling of economic growth from the depletion of natural resources by creating innovative products, services, business models, and public policies, taking into account all flows throughout the life of the product or service.
This model is based on optimum use of resources and the creation of positive value loops. It places particular emphasis on new ways of design, production, and consumption, extending the useful life of products, reuse, and recycling of components.
Origins of the concept
The first evocations of the circular economy go back to the report The limits to growth, carried out in 1972 by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and to the book Product-life factor, by Walter Stahel (1982). However, this concept was suspended about 30 years before being revisited and put forward in 2009 by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
From linear economy to circular economy
The model of developed countries consisting mainly of extracting, producing, consuming, and throwing away no longer makes it possible to apprehend a reasonable future on this model. There is a need to move to a model focused on avoiding waste and increasing the intensity of resource use while reducing environmental impacts. This is what the circular economy aims for, which takes into account three areas:
- The production and supply of goods and services;
- Consumption through demand and consumer behavior (economic or citizen);
- Waste management with priority recourse to recycling which enables the loop to come full circle.
The 7 pillars of the circular economy
1. Sustainable supply
Sustainable supply (extraction/exploitation and sustainable purchases) concerns the mode of exploitation/extraction of resources aiming at efficient exploitation of resources by limiting the waste of exploitation and the impact on the environment, in particular in the exploitation of materials. Energy and minerals; (mines and quarries) or in agriculture and forestry for both renewable and non-renewable materials/energies. Concerning the concept of sustainable purchasing, it encompasses the notions of ethical, solidarity-based, equitable, eco-responsible purchases and is part of the strategies and regulations of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), linked to the more global principles of sustainable development. Responsible purchasing applies to the public, private and individual sectors.
Ecodesign aims, from the design of a process, a good, or a service, to take into account the entire life cycle while minimizing the environmental impacts. Therefore, it becomes crucial for companies to invest in the field of ecodesign.
Some brands have already changed a lot of things in their packaging to generate less waste.
3. Industrial and territorial ecology
Also referred to as industrial symbiosis, constitutes a method of an inter-company organization through exchanges of flows or the pooling of needs. A pillar of the circular economy, industrial and territorial ecology aims to optimize the resources on a territory, whether in terms of energy, materials, water, waste, equipment, and expertise, through a systemic approach inspired by the functioning of natural ecosystems.
4. The Functional Economy
Functional economy is a form of collaborative economy that favors use over possession and thus tends to sell services related to the products rather than the products themselves.
5. Responsible consumption
Responsible consumption must lead the buyer, whether he is an economic actor (private or public) or a citizen consumer, to make his choice by considering the environmental impacts at all stages of the product's life cycle (goods or services).
6. The lengthening of the period of use
The lengthening of the period of use by the consumer leads to recourse to repair, second-hand sale or gift, or second-hand purchase in the context of reuse.
The treatment and recovery of materials contained in the collected waste.
The challenges of the circular economy
In opposition to the classical so-called linear economy, which produces wealth without worrying about preserving resources, the circular economy provides its response to the challenges of the world of tomorrow.
- Reduction in the consumption of resources (raw materials, water, energy) by reducing waste, ending planned obsolescence, and systematizing recycling.
- Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (fight against global warming)
- Reduction and rationalization of company-wide expenditure (better competitiveness).
- Relative security of raw material supplies.
- Development opportunities in new business sectors (recycling, technical innovations, etc.).
- Induced job creation.
- Accountability of production entities in harmony with that of citizens/consumers.