"Today’s economy is massively wasteful. Most of the materials we use, we lose, the things we make are consistently under-utilised, and our efforts to fix it treat the symptoms, not the cause." Andrew Morlet, expert on the circular economy
Watch our video: Redesigning our thinking ‒ A circular economy
What is the circular economy?
The essential concept at the heart of the circular economy is to ensure we can unmake everything we make.
A circular economy is based on the following three principles:
Design out waste & pollution. Keep products & materials in use. Regenerate natural systems. Image from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
The products we use for all aspects of life are often designed and manufactured with little thought for the resources consumed in making them or what happens to them at the end of their life. Apart from the most expensive purchases we make, like a car or house, when something breaks in our modern world it is often more expensive to repair than to buy a new one, and usually it goes to the landfill. Simply put, these products are not designed for reuse, repair, refurbishment or to be remanufactured. This take-make-dispose mind-set has created a linear economy.
A circular economy is an alternative to the traditional linear economy in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.
When a product is designed for the longest use possible, and can be easily repaired, remanufactured or recycled (or used, composted and nutrients returned) we consider it to have a circular life cycle.
A circular economy is fueled by renewable energy (eg solar, hydro, wind and tidal power, and biofuels).
Linear economy: Natural resources-take-make-dispose-waste. Technical & biological materials mixed up. Energy from finite sources.
Circular economy: Biological materials: Image of a Make-Consume-Enrich cycle. Technical material: Image of a Make-use-return cycle
Why transition to the circular economy?
Growing international research and evidence shows numerous benefits over the traditional linear economy.
- long-term cost savings
- increased local job opportunities
- encouragement of technical innovation
- reducing the amount of harmful waste produced
- reversing our impacts on climate change.
When a product’s component materials are reused rather than put in a landfill, not only is that material no longer waste but new raw materials are not required to be extracted.
International research and strategies on the circular economy
- What is a circular economy? Government of South Australia website)
- Circular economy publications [Ellen Macarthur Foundation website]
- London's circular economy route map [London Waste and Recycling Board website]
- Finnish road map to a circular economy [Sitra website]
Key findings from the forthcoming OECD report Global Material Resources Outlook to 2060: Economic Drivers and Environmental Consequences [OECD website].
Andrew Morlet, international expert, talks about the circular economy
Andrew hails from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, where he’s been chief executive since 2014, working towards building the circular economy into all our futures.
He visited New Zealand recently. His visit was organised by the Sustainable Business Network with support from the Ministry for the Environment and WasteMINZ.
Waste Minimisation Fund
The Waste Minimisation Fund's latest funding round is for initiatives that will accelerate New Zealand’s transition to a circular economy.
Flight Plastics is a great example of how circular economy business models can benefit New Zealanders
With the help of the Waste Minimisation Fund, Flight Plastics installed a wash plant to recycle PET food and beverage containers. As well as creating local jobs, this initiative is reducing the amount of new plastic coming into the country and waste plastic being shipped offshore or sent to landfill. Keith Smith, chief executive of Flight Plastics Ltd calls this the “Double Whammy” effect...Read more