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What is the circular economy?

A circular economy is part of the solution to our global climate emergency - one in which products, services and systems are designed to maximise their value and minimise waste.

​It’s an all-encompassing approach to life and business, where everything has value and nothing is wasted. In simple terms, it can be explained as 'make, use, remake' as opposed to 'make, use, dispose'.


Transitioning to a circular economy

The current ‘linear’ system where everyday products are just made, used and disposed of no longer works for businesses, people or our environment.

The ultimate goal of a circular economy is to design out waste. It's about responsible production where businesses which supply products and services, get the maximum life and value from the natural resources used to make them;

Louise McGregor, Head of Circular Economy at Zero Waste Scotland, explains circular design in our short video below:

Why do we need a circular economy?

The world’s population is expected to peak at 10bn in 2050. Our resources, the earth’s raw materials, are not limitless. As a result, global labour and raw material costs are on the increase.

Circular economy business opportunities can offer new ways to mitigate these risks to allow businesses to grow and diversify. In a circular economy, products and materials keep circulating in a high value state of use, through supply chains, for as long as possible.

For this reason, “making things last” is a moral, environmental and economic imperative. 

Dr h c Walter R. Stahel is widely recognised as one of the key thinkers in the circular economy. Watch our short video below to hear his insights into the circular economy and why we need one:

How does a circular economy work?

Businesses, organisations and industries need to embrace the opportunities and benefits of a circular economy so that waste is ‘designed out’ of how we live - those who can do so first will have a competitive advantage.

A circular economy is achieved by designing products smartly with their whole life cycle in mind, re-using and repairing to extend their useful life, and then when their life is deemed over, remanufacturing to create new products from old.

There are several routes to embracing a circular economy including;

  • Design
    Products are made using regenerative materials and modular design techniques in order to be longer-lasting and easier to disassemble and repair, in essence, to design out waste;

  • Re-use and repair
    Product life cycles are extended by maintenance and repair, so they remain in their original use for as long as possible. This could include manufacturers retaining ownership of their products and implementing re-use and repair services;
  • Recycling
    Products can be easily separated into component parts and materials, enabling use in new products, displacing the use of virgin raw materials;
  • Manufacturing
    Manufacturing products with circular economy principles built in at design;

  • Remanufacturing and Reuse
    Extending the lifetime of products at the end of their ‘first life’ by repurposing them or enabling other, subsequent uses;

  • Business Models including leasing and servistisation;
    Overseeing the full lifespan of your products creates a truly stable business model, with a steady income.
  • Every business is different. Moving to a circular business model can sometimes be about making a few small changes that can make a huge difference in the long run. Visit our Circular Economy Accelerator site to learn more about the options available and how our Circular Economy experts can support you to get there. 

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