Circular Economy: A Crash Course

Circular Economy: A Necessary Solution

In a few decades, nearly 10 billion people will call planet Earth home. Considering that we will be sharing our space with quite a few more humans, how can we ensure that everyone has access to the resources essential for modern living? How can society develop a future quality of life standard while preserving the environment’s capacity to sustain us all? 

As new challenges emerge in sharing global resources, the demand for engineers and scientists to develop creative solutions increases. Imagine a more economical, environmentally friendly, and nearly waste-free method of sourcing materials. How will the world look if innovation is unleashed to provide the resources people need? Whether it is a new lamp for the end table, vitamins from the pharmacy, a yoga mat made from recyclable materials, or an automobile, the way we think and consume is going to change drastically in the near future.

Have More, With Less

Think about the last time you bought something and threw it away on the same day. Really think about that. This most likely happens every single day, multiple times a day. Food wrappers, plastic straws, paper napkins, utensils, tissues, fast fashion, plastic packaging, everyday mountains of stuff gets used once then thrown away forever. We live in an era where disposable consumption rules – the age of convenience. Well, what if it were more convenient to keep things for a long time? Imagine if instead of being encouraged to drop things in the trash, we were once again encouraged to hang on to things for life. Engineers can combine design and function to encourage consumers to hold on to products, reducing waste and increasing the product lifecycle. 

“We produce 40 tonnes of waste to make a tonne of products, and 98% are dumped within six months. We can enhance resource efficiency and brand loyalty by designing things that people want to keep longer — building in emotionally durable design,” says Brighton University’s professor of sustainable design Jonathan Chapman.

With a little ingenuity and imagination, a restorative economy can be built to support products that are designed to be made and repurposed, then made again. Enter the Circular Economy. Currently, we consume finite resources and use them to make goods that are thrown away. In a circular economy, value comes from products and services that are derived from innovation. Instead of banking on economic growth from consumption in the take-make-use-dispose cycle, value is created from materials’ reusability and longevity of life cycle.

Making the Circular Economy Work for Everyone

A circular economy is much more complex than just recycling and repurposing. In a circular economy, it is a central goal to utilise resources for as long as possible. Essentially, the circular economy requires companies to no longer design for maximum single-use profitability, but to design for reusability and value in a product’s quality and longevity. 

But, isn’t it true that if companies built quality products that last, they will lose sales and profits? How can you convince a company to defer profits for the greater good? Well, the good news is that with the circular economy, that’s not necessary. 

When products have a short life cycle, there is a large volume of waste. In the process of creating the infrastructure for repair and maintenance to service long-lasting products, companies can tap into a huge market, estimated globally at nearly $1 trillion USD

Engineers have already begun innovating and creating to contribute to the circular economy model. Roads are being designed from plastic waste, edible food packaging is being produced, and even shoes are being made from 100% reusable thermoplastic

Although there are many examples of engineering design that contribute to this model, it takes synchronised innovation to bring about this new economy.  Efforts in Europe, in California and in several Asian countries show highly developed, highly synchronised supply chains that are delivering circular goods and C.E. services.

How Can You Contribute to a Circular Economy?

Even if you don’t have influence over large companies, it doesn’t mean that you can’t contribute to a circular economy. There are small practices that you can incorporate into your routine that facilitate our transition to a circular economy. 

  1. Trade items that you don’t use. 

There are plenty of digital platforms to share or trade items that you no longer use or use sparingly. Cir.cl is a circular economy digital platform that helps people to share, sell, buy, and comment within a system. This platform helps people benefit from the value of the product, without having to own it. You can also start your own community product share! Start small with your colleagues or your neighbours. Share garden tools or home repair equipment or car maintenance tools.  Even a free giveaway on Gumtree is more circular than landfilling furniture or disused household items.

  1. Eat Your Leftovers!

Food waste costs the Australian economy about $20 billion each year. Why not help reduce food waste and keep one day each week for using up all of the leftover food that is in the fridge. Use your creativity to combine interesting ingredients into a few dishes. Or invite family or friends over to use up what you have.  Planning purchases can also change the fridge pile up.

  1. Buy things that are made from reusable or recycled materials. 

Everything from shoes to yoga mats, drink straws to coffee tables use resources.  Individual consumer purchases add together to drive trends and markets. The goods you buy and the materials you buy add up in the larger economy.  You might not be able to afford the most new and innovative thing, but you can certainly shop second hand or trade within your community. You could even make something yourself!

  1. Dream up a new product.

Using 3D printing and lattice architecture technologies, which involves crisscrossing strips of the plastic materials to form a grid or weave, these engineers took inspiration from bird’s nest to build bricks from plastic waste. Innovative manufacturing, local manufacturing, and local re-manufacturing initiatives are merging with circular economy concepts to yield remarkably innovative product and service offerings that have in-built brand identification and customer loyalty.

Do you want to know more about the circular economy? Check out this report from The Warren Centre on your lunch break. Subscribe to updates from NSW Circular and learn more about innovative solutions being developed.  Make sure to venture out into your city to discover the innovative practices that are already in process. We can build a sustainable circular economy together!

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