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A Brief Introduction to the Concept of a Circular Economy

A circular economy is an economic system
that sees an economy which restores or regenerates
itself and the eco-systems in which it is nested in as
the most intelligent expression of human intent.
This type of economic system stands in stark contrast
to the existing global model which often
assumes that ecosystems and their services are
indestructible- and will always provide a constant level
of services no matter how they are managed.
The concept of the circular economy also replaces
the linear mindset of "Take-Make-Waste"
with a the circular mindset of "Borrow-Use-Return".
Thus the circular economy, which operates on the
new mindset of "Borrow-Use-Return" shows a preference
for the use of renewable energy, eliminates the
short-sighted use of toxic chemicals
and aims for the complete elimination of waste.
Waste is seen as an expression of poor design which results in
an unnecessary loss of profit.
Designers in a circular economy see materials use as the
lifeline of the entire system. They design products and
services which make hyper efficient use of natural materials
and energy systems. This approach then gives birth to
new business models such as leasing products
instead of selling them in order to retain
ownership over the valuable material resources used.
These scarce resources are reused again and again
at the lowest possible cost to provide new products
and services for the market.
To further understand the workings of a circular economy
we must understand several key principles it is based upon.
First, this type of economy aims to ‘design for zero waste".
The ideas is that the optimal industrial process is one in
which waste does not exist at all. An elegantly designed
process creates products that are designed for disassembly
and immediate reuse. The goal is to sustain the value of
materials and to keep them in circulation,
as long as possible. Tight component and product
cycles are a key to the circular economy and set
it apart from disposal and even recycling
where large amounts of embedded energy
and labour are lost.
Secondly, in a circular economy
there is an understanding of the importance
of taking advantage of two defining characteristics
of materials. Some material is consumable and
other types of materials can be used to make the
durable components of a product.
In contrast, in our current economy, consumables
are largely made of biologically degradible ingredients
which are mixed with durable materials to create
"monsterous hybrids". In a circular economy biologically
degradable materials are designed to be at
non-toxic and if possible, even beneficial
for the biosphere which it can be returned to safely.
On the other hand, durables such as washing machines
or automobiles are made of technical materials like
metals or plastics which, if they are returned to the
biosphere lose their value, become classified as waste
and thus are become a "cost of business".
In a circular economy, designers work to optimize this
reality from the outset and create products and services in
which these non-degradable materials may be reused.
Finally, renewable energy sources are seen as the
most intelligent choice available as they decrease dependence
on finite fossil fuel sources which are predicted to rise in cost.
Fossil fuels are also seen as less preferable as their use results
in destructive emissions into the biosphere which reduce the
resilience of the foundational eco-system and the quality of
the services it can provide the economy and society at large.
In summary, one might say that a circular economy springs
forth from a new mindset based on natural realities and
good old fashioned common sense.