There is too much trash.
In 2015 the EPA reported that Americans produced 262.4 million tons of municipal solid waste, and 91% of the plastic we use isn’t recycled. America is literally drowning in so much trash that we’ve had to build robots to assist humans in sorting it.
As common sense would have it, this problem has led folks to ask, “Well, what if we made less trash?”
Which brings us to the idea of the circular economy.
The World Economic Forum defines a circular economy as “an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design.”
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines it as being based on “principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.”
“The circular economy aims to eradicate waste.”
McKinsey Consultants provides an even more concise definition: “The circular economy aims to eradicate waste.”
However you want to slice it, the consensus seems to be that the circular economy is a practical and innovation-fueled response to the fact that there is a limit to the materials we use.
Often “circular” is used in a way that is synonymous with “sustainable.” However, the circular economy goes a step beyond by extending a product’s lifecycle.
So while something sustainable can be biodegradable or harmless to the environment, something circular would simply never be thrown away. If it’s broken down, its components can be reused to make something of equal or greater value.
Accenture has said that a circular economy could result in $4.5 trillion of economic growth by 2030. Additionally, the International Labour Organization has estimated that six million jobs can be created by transitioning toward a circular economy.
The Ellen MacArthur’s Make Fashion Circular initiative has signed on industry leaders like Burberry, Gap Inc., H&M Group, and NIKE to support the effort with campaigns such as this one to redesign our approach to denim.
The Renewal Workshop is also providing circular solutions to a number of apparel and textile brands by helping transform existing linear manufacturing practices. Their portfolio of partners include a number of innovative fabric, apparel, accessories and household linen makers.
Other creative projects like Good Stuff from food revolutionizer, Michael Pollan, are also mapping a circular future.
In tech, Google has partnered with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as well to create Plan Your Planet. This tool helps people discover ways to incorporate the circular economy into their everyday lives. Hewlett Packard has also begun investing in finding what it calls “lifecycle solutions.”
TerraCycle has already made a global impact and continues to grow its presence by helping people “recycle the non-recyclable.” By working with individuals and major companies, the company has diverted nearly eight billion pounds of waste. They even have a new e-commerce platform called Loop that allows you to get your favorite grocery store brands delivered with reusable packaging.
In the world of furniture, subscription companies such as Fernish allow people to rent high-quality furniture for as long as they’d like. Once the furniture’s returned, it’s cleaned and prepared for a new home.
In addition to implementing tactics from Google’s Plan Your Planet and supporting companies investing in circular systems, you can gather more strategies from zero-waste pros like Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home. Another way to tap into the circular economy is by elevating your recycling game and learning about downcycling, upcycling and precycling.
Like all great solutions to urgent problems, the circular economy is catching on because it’s both practical and actionable. More and more ways to incorporate it into your everyday life are revealing themselves. What are some tactics you’ll start using?
Download Our Free Guide to Sustainable Living.
From reducing waste to recycling and upcycling, our e-book shows simple ways to make choices you can feel good about.