All you need to know about the circular economy

Summary

Extracting, manufacturing, consuming, discarding: the foundations of the linear economy, on which our capitalist system is based, are reaching their limits. Their environmental impact, the depletion of fossil energies and the increasing scarcity of resources are all signs warning us of the urgent need to think up new paradigms. This is where the circular economy comes into play, bringing a conception of production and consumption that is both revolutionary and full of good sense.
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What is the circular economy?

The cornerstone of a society model based on sustainable development, the circular economy is an economic concept in direct opposition to the « linear » economy. The latter is based on the use of natural resources available in large quantities for the production of goods, and their consumption. In contrast, the circular economy supposes a scarcity of resources and thus recommends responsible use and management of them. This implies a model of society that optimizes stocks and flows of materials, energies and waste. It is called « circular » because it does not generate waste: scrap is used, becoming a resource in turn. The circular economy thus functions in a loop.

The basic principles of the circular economy

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, created by the celebrated British sailor in 2010 to promote the circular economy, defines it as a “restorative” and thus intrinsically virtuous system. The system is based on seven pillars, according to ADEME (the French energy development and control agency):

Sustainable extraction of resources

Obtaining supplies of resources must be carried out responsibly, i.e. by limiting the waste linked with operations, and reducing the activity’s impact on the environment, particularly as regards fossil energies and the use of agricultural or forestry land. Impluvium Evian

With the Évian impluvium, the APIEME Association protects the water resources by assessing and limiting the impact of human activity on the environment, preserving wetland and supporting farmers who introduce more environmentally-friendly solutions.

Eco design

The aim here, before the process of designing a product or a service even begins, is to factor in its entire life-cycle, minimizing its environmental impact and the waste it generates.bioPlastics

For example, the production of bio-sourced plastics, i.e. produced using plants and thus biodegradable. This is the aim of the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance, co-founded by Danone with other agri-food groups and the WWF.

Industrial ecology

This involves the optimization of resources achieved by companies through flow exchanges or the pooling of specific requirements.maxresdefault

An iconic illustration of industrial ecology goes back to the 1970s, when six organizations at the Kalundborg site in Denmark (including the city hall, a power station, a plasterboard manufacturer and a biotechnology company) joined forces in order to use the waste of one entity as an energy source for the others. Today, the Kalundborg Symbiosis still functions as a network for exchanging water, energy and sub-products resulting from the activities carried out at the site.

The economy of functionality

This is a change of fostering an economy based on using services rather than possessing goods.Sant1

One of the best-known and most widespread example of the economy of functionality is the existence of bike-, car- and scooter-share services in major cities (Vélov’ in Lyon, Santander Cycles in London, Autolib’ in Paris, etc.). Increasingly numerous tool-sharing platforms like SharingPlace are another version of this approach

Responsible consumption

The act of consumption becomes a fully-considered choice, which takes the environmental impact of the products consumed into account.Beauty-Good-Guide-App

For example, there are many mobile apps to help consumers make enlightened choices. They include GoodGuide, which scans the barcode of a product and shows its performances in social, environmental and health terms.

Extension of useful life

Built-in obsolescence is a thing of the past: consumers can repair their items, reuse second-hand products or do a bit of upcycling (a process in which used materials are converted into something of higher value in their second life).increvable-900

L’Increvable, a washing machine dreamed up by young French designers to last for 50 years. The machine “was designed in response to the excesses of built-in obsolescence and the throwaway culture”, and is designed to be easily repaired by users themselves.

Recycling and upcycling

The last stage in the circular economy, recycling makes it possible to reintegrate raw materials from waste into the economic circuit. But this waste can also be “augmented” in the re-use process. Because they are given more value, they are called “upcycled”.motorcycle_lamp2

The site Upcyclethat.com lists start-ups operating in the upcycling niche and also provides all sorts of tutorials for upcycling products lying around in the house or garage. Here we see a lamp made with old motorcycle parts by the start-up Classified Moto.

For the industry, the circular economy represents a remarkable opportunity to produce goods in a more environmentally-friendly way, innovate in the actual design of products and invent new economic models. From consumers to companies and cities, from the World Economic Forum in Davos to NGOs, numerous players are making efforts to think up and construct local or global circular economy projects. All initiatives that should enable the circular economy to get a foothold with the general public as an enduring and effective model of society.