The term “Circular Economy” is rapidly gaining popularity. Google it today and you’ll get over half a million hits. 5 years ago it would barely have come up.
But what does the Circular Economy mean? Your Google search will throw out some ideas – regenerative system, coherent framework, innovation, closed loops, secure resource flows – and it can all sound like intimidating corporate babble.
Actually, the fundamental concept is really simple. Right now, we extract resources from nature, create stuff to use for a short time, and then dump it in landfills (otherwise known as the “linear model”). Sooner or later we’ll run out of natural resources, and landfill space, so clearly this situation can’t go on forever. In the future, we need to create stuff with the whole life cycle in mind, so that we can re-use, re-use, and re-use it forever. That’s the circular idea.
But, how does this work in practice? Will we have to wear the same T-Shirt forever? Will we spend all our time sorting our recycling? Sounds like a bleak future.
Well, actually that’s where it gets really exciting. Recycling and changing a few habits is one thing. But the real problem is that our systems are based on a world from 200 years ago – with fewer people, endless natural resources, and no environmental worries (at least, that we knew of). And these systems produce endless waste. So to really hack this problem, we need to use our collective imagination to fundamentally shake up our global systems – we’re talking economic, energy, mobility, environmental, social, agricultural, cultural, educational – everything. And what better time than now – with the golden age of silicon valley, new technologies from block-chain to Artificial Intelligence, expanding internet connectivity, and rapidly developing economies (Africa’s population set to double by 2050).
It’s a chance to redesign our way of life for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, in a way that creates prosperity for everyone…forever– what an opportunity!
So where do we start? Just by looking around – the Circular Economy challenges us to get really smart about how we use our resources and to question everything we do. Why have cars sitting around in parking lots 92% of the time? Driverless cars are (almost literally) around the corner, so future transport systems will include car-sharing schemes that drastically reduce resource usage, and will cost a fraction of what we pay now. Why build ever-growing urban centres that draw on external water, energy, food resources, and sends the waste back to rural spaces. New biotechnology solutions will be able to integrate biological production, waste and wastewater recycle functions into smart urban environments- making them waste free and self-sufficient.
So this will be happening way into the future, right? Not so – the future is happening already. Big companies are racing to use new technology for waste reduction – block-chain and sensors to cut food waste up the supply chain, innovative materials to reuse and recycle clothing materials, zero waste production goals in their factories…
Meanwhile, a boom in circular economy start-ups is happening – a bottled water company which uses edible bottles; beer brewed from old bread, jeans you can rent and switch over as soon as you want a new style
All this activity means megabucks for the economy – £523 billion in Europe alone, to be exact. So if you look at it the right way, the Circular Economy isn’t about hardship at all. There are huge opportunities for entrepreneurs, businesses, governments and individuals alike. How exactly things will change, and where we will be in 20 years – nobody knows. But what we do know is there’s no turning back from the Circular Economy – so get involved, stay informed with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and other think tanks – and become part of the revolution!
 “The Circular Economy, Moving From Theory To Practice”, McKinsey.
 “The circular economy enters the world stage, with Finland leading the way”, The Guardian.
 Ellen MacArthur Foundation website. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation works with business, government and academia to build a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design
 Biopolus website. Biopolus develops and sells efficient, beautiful living factories –called BioMakeries – to convert wastewater and almost any kind of organic material into products for sale.