What is a Circular Economy? | Circular Economy Month | Waste Reduction Week in Canada

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What is a Circular Economy?

Circular economy is more than just recycling - it’s about keeping products and materials at their highest utility and value throughout their life-cycle and recirculating them at the end of their life.

Circular Economy vs. Linear Economy

Products have historically been designed for convenience but with no consideration of the waste left behind. Take the plastic straw for example; Canadians use 57 million of them every day and most end up in the garbage or lost to the environment. Take a raw material, make something, use it, and dispose it; that is a linear economy. The solution is in the circular economy where we design products so resources can be reused and reinvested in new products again and again.

How is this different from recycling? Rather than having to find recycling solutions after a product is designed and brought to market — like the plastic straw — recovery and material reuse is part of the design and manufacturing process of the product from the beginning.

A circular economy also supports the idea of access over ownership. Streaming services like Spotify and Netflix rent access to content without you needing to own anything like CDs and DVDs. By shifting to access over ownership, the responsibility falls to manufacturers to make longer lasting and more efficient products that are designed with repair and reuse as primary considerations.

How can we advance the circular economy? Purchase smartly designed products meant to be reused, refurbished, and dismantled. Support companies that offer take-back of products after use. Embrace access over ownership.

Image alternative text: How can Canadians advance the circular economy? Purchase products/services that use recycled material. Purchase refurbished products. Use sharing programs such as tool libraries, auto & bike shares, movie and music streaming. Purchase smartly designed products meant to be reused, refurbished, and dismantled. Repair products instead of buying new when possible. Support companties that offer take-back of products after use. 

Facts and Stats

  • Canada needs a circular economy that is restorative and regenerative by design; and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.
  • We can re-design the way our economy works by designing products and services that limit consumption, improve the value of materials and protect resources
  • The circular economy aims to redefine products and services to design waste out.
  • Circular business models will prove essential for businesses that want to be future-proof in a society where resource constraints are a growing problem and consumer attitudes are shifting towards alternatives for ownership and consumption.

There are five circular business models:

  • Circular supplies: Supply fully renewable, recyclable, or biodegradable resource inputs to support circular production.
  • Resource recovery: Eliminate material leakage and maximize economic value of product return flows.
  • Products life extension: Extend the current lifecycle of a product: repairability, upgrading, reselling.
  • Products as service: Stimulating collaboration among product users.
  • Sharing platforms: Products are used by one or many customers through lease or pay-for-use arrangements