Will a Circular Economy Be Convenient?

Imagine a world without waste. It seems impossible, but there is an idea gaining traction that could drastically alter the life cycle of our stuff. It's called circular economics.

Our current economy revolves around a linear model of consumption in which we use finite resources inefficiently. We manufacture, consume, and trash our products at an alarming rate, and unfortunately this kind of system is not sustainable in the long run.

A circular economy is based on the idea that our production and consumption processes should operate within a "closed loop," with all resources and materials being repurposed at the end of a product's life. This concept is inspired in part by the naturally regenerative cycles found in nature. A successful circular economy would function on the foundation of balance, efficiency, and little to no waste. By shifting the focus towards optimizing resources, companies, consumers, and the environment will benefit in the long run.


Just Say No to the Landfill

Achieving a circular economy requires a change in the way products are made as well as new commercial structures. Manufactured parts should be replaceable or easily detachable so that products can be repaired or repurposed instead of sent to the landfill. We would also have to consider alternatives to the one-directional output flow of our products. Leasing items instead of flat-out selling them, for example, would actually be cheaper for the consumer in many cases and prevent valuable materials from being wasted. Watch Dame Ellen McArthur, one of the biggest proponents of circular economics, explain this model using a washing machine as an example:


These concepts seem far removed from what we're used to, but there are already examples of a circular economy in motion. A Dutch company called Mud Jeans leases their clothing for as little as $8.28 a month. Philips recently started selling lighting as a service rather than a product to their European customers, ensuring smaller upfront costs and the proper management of lighting equipment. Ford is working towards the production of a "harmless car" made with compostable parts, and it also fitted one of its Michigan factories with a living roof as an innovative solution to comply with new storm water regulations (it ended up saving the company over $30 million dollars).

Are We Too Lazy?

The sticking point, however, is that Americans are often a tad lazy when it comes to dealing with products at the end of their life. Research has shown that we tend to recycle only when it's convenient for us. A 2014 study revealed that although 72 percent of consumers consistently recycle in the home, only about half do so beyond the kitchen because bins aren't readily available in other rooms.

Transforming the economy on such a large scale would require an immense effort on both the part of producers and consumers. Americans are accustomed to instant gratification; we shop on our phones, eat on the run, and yell at our computer screens if the internet connection is just slightly slower than usual. If we were to adopt circular principles, we would need to consider our habits and make sure that it's easy for us to actually complete the circle.

Getting Started

Converting our economy into a waste-free closed loop will certainly not happen overnight, but we as consumers can hasten this change by supporting companies that implement this concept. Planet Aid embraces the circular model. Our clothing collection services strive to reduce waste by making it easy for people to keep valuable resources, specifically materials from clothes and shoes, out of landfills.

To learn more, read the latest report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, "Towards the Circular Economy." You can also read more about "A World Hungry for Used Clothes" here.