When we think about the lifecycle of the products we use everyday, we can draw a straight line from the mine to the landfill. Minerals and metals are dug up, sent to factories to be made into goods, then used by consumers until they run their course and are thrown away. This journey contributes to a range of environmental issues by releasing greenhouse gas emissions and toxic chemicals.
This way of doing things simply doesn’t make sense, and endangers both planetary and human health. We’re tearing through resources at a staggering rate, using up the equivalent of 1.6 Earths every year. With the climate crisis rapidly coming to a head, we urgently need to transform this wasteful and harmful system.
But there is a solution: the circular economy, which flips this traditional take-make-waste approach on its head. With sustainability at its centre, the circular economy is our pathway to a greener, fairer world.
The circular economy’s 3 central principles
The Ellen Macarthur Foundation - a charity which aims to accelerate the transition to a circular economy - outlines its three foundational principles as follows:
1. Designing out waste and pollution. This means driving down energy and water usage, eliminating toxic chemicals, and minimising carbon dioxide emissions.
2. Building products that are made to last. When they do stop working, products can either be repaired, broken down and built into something new, recycled, or returned to the earth to biodegrade.
3. Restoring the natural world. Rather than degrading the environment and triggering climate change, our systems can replicate the regenerative methods of nature and help undo the damage we’ve done to the world.
The advantages of a circular economy
Since natural resource extraction and processing are responsible for half of greenhouse gas emissions, a circular economy would be a powerful tool in tackling climate change. It would also help stop the onslaught of biodiversity loss and other catastrophic environmental issues we face.
A circular economy would bring benefits for people, too. Eliminating waste and pollution would hugely improve public health, as well as social justice, as these issues often disproportionately affect marginalised communities. It would also cut the price of consumer goods, giving people more disposable income, while planned obsolescence (when your phone suddenly stops working after two years) would no longer be an all-too-common problem.
Businesses would also benefit from lower costs, and be less dependent on volatile supply chains for raw materials. A circular economy would unlock new economic opportunities for Australia, spurring economic growth and innovation while helping businesses boost their sustainability.
Obstacles and opportunity
There are a number of barriers to the circular economy - from a lack of government support, to a lack of infrastructure and investment in recycling services, to our cultural preference for convenience over sustainability. But perhaps the biggest challenge is that the circular economy is not a piecemeal solution - it’ll require us to totally transform our economic system from the ground up.
That means there are opportunities for all individuals and businesses in every sector to help build a circular economy. As a consultancy with deep sustainability expertise, Perspektiv can boost your business’s circularity by supporting you to implement practices such as diverting waste and harnessing recycled materials. We can help you unlock new value streams while simultaneously replenishing nature and generating social benefits, and the benefits of going circular will ripple out from your business to our whole planet. By partnering with us to take these initial steps, you can play a pivotal role in accelerating the transition to a greener and fairer future.