The world may go round and round, but the economy is still mostly going in a straight line.

This week the Ellen MacArthur Foundation published a set of policy goals that aim to help us move more quickly towards the circular economy.

But what is the circular economy and why do we want to move towards it?

Which economic model is currently in place?

Traditionally, our economy moves in a straight line: resources are used to create products, which are used for a limited period and then thrown out. Then the process starts again.

Collecting raw materials and making them into products takes a lot of energy and water, and can result in emissions of toxic substances. Landfill waste takes away more and more space from natural areas and here, too, toxic substances are often emitted.

So the linear economy is draining resources and damaging our ecosystems.

And what about the circular economy?

The circular economy, on the other hand, is a system that aims to keep raw materials in circulation for as long as possible.

But that doesn’t just mean finding better ways to recycle. The circular economy is a completely different approach that is set up from the beginning to keep waste to a minimum and enable reuse. Waste is designed out of the process from the beginning.

One example is designing packaging that is totally biodegradable.

Another is mobile phones that are designed so that that individual components can be easily be replaced by the user and raw materials can be reclaimed at the end of the product’s life.

Advantages for the environment

A circular economy will result in a considerable reduction of greenhouse emissions; it will prevent vital ecosystems such as soil, air and water bodies from becoming depleted and it will allow us to preserve natural areas.

Advantages for the economy

A circular economy will make production more efficient and stimulate innovation, and as economic growth is decoupled from the consumption of raw materials, the economy will be free to grow without being held back by a lack of resources.

Advantages for business

Businesses will benefit as the supply of materials becomes more stable. Material costs will decrease and new opportunities will open up. Companies are likely to remain responsible for the maintenance and repair of products for longer, or even to lease products instead of selling them. This translates to a longer relationship with the customers, which offers an opportunity to achieve greater customer satisfaction and therefore loyalty.

What can we do?

So especially given the financial benefits, businesses are now getting on board and starting to move towards a circular economy.

But to bring it right down to the individual level, is there anything we can do ourselves?

The most sustainable product is the one you already have, so one thing is using an item until the end of its useful life, rather than getting a new one just because you fancy it. Or buy second hand if possible, and pass on your unwanted items instead of throwing them out. Changing the world might seem like a giant task best left to businesses and policymakers, but we’re all in this together and if we all do a little bit we can make a difference.

For much more information about the circular economy, have a look here.

Image credit.