The world’s resources are limited, but we are living as if they weren’t. Our economic system is based on taking precious resources from the natural environment, creating products with a built-in life-span and throwing them away to then buy new ones. This crazy system means that it now takes the Earth 18 months to replenish the resources humanity consumes in a year, and this time is increasing.
This situation is simply not sustainable.
The ‘take, make and throw away’ economy has had its time. Instead, policymakers and NGOs, along with a growing number of industries, agree that moving to a ‘circular economy’ – where waste is prevented and products reused or recycled – is the best solution for the planet and for business.
Such a solution would stop the planet eating up resources faster than they can be replenished, with products built instead from resources that are recycled and therefore already in the system. Everything made from these material resources would be designed to last longer, be reused and be easily repairable and recyclable, rather than breaking down easily and forcing people to buy something new. Hence, it makes environmental sense.
But such a change of direction also makes business sense with the potential to significantly boost innovation and job creation. Companies that adopt new business and production models that reduce reliance on raw materials by continuously cycling materials back into their supply chains are likely to be better insulated against fluctuating commodity markets and other future shocks. A circular economy is a more resilient economy.
A circular economy should also concern organic resources as it has equally important advantages for the very earth underneath our feet and the future of our agriculture. Organic materials and biomass, when preserved or cycled through composting and other innovative applications, can help people satisfy fundamental nutritional needs and contribute to healthy soils and a rich biodiversity.
The aim of the game is to keep resources within the economy for as long as possible. That means keeping discarded items out of landfills and incinerators, and retrieving as much as we can from them to build new products or enrich the soils through quality compost.
By mimicking systems within the natural world, the circular economy can allow humanity to live in balance with the environment, creating an economic system that preserves the planet’s resources rather than plundering them.
The EEB is an official member of the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform promoted by the European Commission.
jobs could be created through better design of our products, more re-use and waste prevention
could be generated if we use our resources more efficiently