circular economy design waste

Four principles of the Circular Economy

The Circular Economy is an approach to industry that moves away from linear consumption and towards reuse. If you’ve heard the phrase and aren’t entirely sure what it means, here are four principles that explain the philosophy.

  1. A true circular economy is zero waste. Nothing is thrown away, because waste is designed out by making things for repair, disassembly and reuse.
  2. There are two types of industrial ‘ingredients’: disposable and durable. Disposable ingredients are those that can biodegrade, such as paper or fabric. Second, there are ‘technical’ ingredients like metal or plastic that can be reused. Things must be one or the other so that everything can be either reused or put back into nature. More complex objects should be designed to be dismantled so that they can be sorted into those two categories at the end of their lives.
  3. If this industrial cycle is to be sustainable, then the energy that powers it needs to be entirely renewable. This also reduces businesses exposure to resource depletion or supply shocks.
  4. Customers are no longer consumers, but users.  This means that companies will want the materials back when you’re done with them. That could mean an incentive to return things at the end of their useful life, or it could mean more leasing, renting and sharing.

The principles above are from Towards the Circular Economy, the third research volume from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

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