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What is the circular economy?

Businesses, industry and consumers working together to make things last.

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'.

The ultimate goal is to keep products and materials circulating in a high-value state of use for as long as possible and maximise resources.  

This 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.

It’s helpful to think about it in relation to your mobile phone…

In a circular economy your phone is designed so it can be easily repaired, and upgraded to prolong its use.  At the end of its useful life, the phone is easy to disassemble so that the components and raw materials can be re-used in another phone, made into a different product, or returned safely to nature.

The fundamental components in a circular economy:

We need businesses, organisations and industries to embrace the opportunities and benefits of a circular economy so that waste is ‘designed out’ of how we live. There are several routes to embracing the circular economy and the benefits that brings to business.  Each has varying degrees of strategic fit depending on the nature of the business in question.


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.

In addition, products are consumed using ‘sharing economy’ models such as leasing and hiring. Think about it as subscribing to a TV streaming service as opposed to buying a physical box-set for your favourite TV show. 

Servicing 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. 

Remanufacture and re-use

Extending the lifetime of products at the end of their ‘first life’ by repurposing them or enabling other, subsequent uses.


Products can be easily separated into component parts and materials, enabling use in new products, displacing the use of virgin raw materials.

Aiming for the sky

Scotland is well placed for innovating for a circular economy in which waste material essentially becomes the raw material. 

After all, we have a grand history of inventors: Alexander Graham Bell (telephone), John Logie Baird (television), David Gow (the world’s first Bionic arm), John Mallard (the first MRI scanner), James Goodfellow (PIN numbers and ATM technology) – to name a few.

Recent Scottish circular innovations include using coffee waste and recovered heat from whisky distilleries in the production of mushrooms (Aurora Sustainability).

However if circular economy principles are to continue to develop, there needs to be a change in hearts, mindsets, motivations and behaviours. The fundamental economic principle of supply and demand comes into play regardless whether we are dealing with a linear or a circular economy, in other words, demand for circular economy products and services has to be stimulated. 

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