In the world of sustainability, it’s widely accepted that a circular economy is key to achieving a more sustainable world—a world in which our society and our environment are allowed to thrive side by side.
The idea of a circular economy is simple: all of the resources produced and used must go back into the economy to be reused as much as they can be. However, implementation of a circular economy is not as simple. Even from a city level, it takes years of analyzing materials use, working with companies in order to incentivize circularity, and to finally carry out the necessary policies in order to achieve successful circularity. It’s a long, arduous process, and it becomes even more difficult when it’s applied to a national or international setting.
However, that hasn’t stopped legislators across the world from beginning the switch to a circular economy. In fact, a key point in the European Green Deal is the Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) that’s being put into place in the EU.
The reason why a circular economy is so promising is that circularity doesn’t just help us to achieve sustainability, but it also aids in job creation, additional income streams, and more.
But, how exactly are countries instituting circularity, and what benefits are they seeing as a result? Let’s take a look.
From an environmental standpoint, a circular economy has many clear benefits. It results in the reduction of carbon emissions, minimized use of nonrenewable resources, and it ensures that materials within a country are used to their utmost extent, which simultaneously reaps economic rewards as well as environmental ones.
But there are additional benefits that municipalities have seen from a circular economy, whether through practice or through projections.
- Job creation: After a materials scan in Amsterdam, the city found that adoption of a circular economy within the construction sector could result in up to 700 new jobs, mostly among low- or mid-skilled workers. Additionally, Glasgow’s circular economy plan predicted 2,000 new jobs.
- Additional income: The same scan within Amsterdam determined a potential creation of €85 million per year within the construction sector.
- More business opportunities: Many circular economy plans, including those in Brussels, entail providing training, resources, and monetary support to new businesses and startups so that they can make circular choices of their own. As a result, they’ve seen a 45% improvement in circularity measures.
Because circular economies rely upon keeping materials within the economy—whether at the level of a city, country, or region—it means that fewer resources need to be imported from elsewhere. This results in saved costs, especially for countries that offer few resources of their own. Additionally, the implementation of certain circularity programs requires new positions to be filled, lowering unemployment and replacing positions that may become redundant because of circularity.
However, making the switch from a circular economy does require support. Since most countries have been operating on a linear system for so long, companies and individuals may require training and other resources in order to achieve circularity. However, rather than being a drain on taxpayers, well executed support systems provide opportunities for small businesses and startups to thrive, additionally allowing the local economy to grow.
How to successfully establish a circular economy
Although the concept of a circular economy is a relatively new one, we do have examples to look toward. The Climate KIC Circular City Project worked with cities around Europe who were interested in implementing circular economy systems in order to pinpoint positive and negative effects of transitioning into circularity in regard to urban planning.
The goal was to create a sort of manual in order to guide other cities and governments who wished to move to a circular economy in the future. They found that the key to adopting a circular economy include a two-step process:
- Analyze the current state of materials and resources
- Identify problem areas and determine concrete solutions
Within those two steps, they’ve provided a customizable framework so that governments can determine the best way to move forward while keeping local cultures, communities, and needs in mind. From there, the circular approach can expand until it becomes the norm countrywide.
Another upcoming approach to implementing a circular economy is extended producer responsibility (EPR). This is the idea that producers of goods should be held accountable for management of post-consumer materials. Following this theory, if producers are considered the responsible party, they are more likely to produce post-consumer materials that are easy to reuse and/or recycle, thereby encouraging a circular economy.
Of course, these strategies are still in their infancy, and as a global community, we will need to continue to work together, report successes and failures, and creatively execute strategies in order to see a global circular economy system.
The EU’s approach to a circular economy
In perhaps the most ambitious circular economy action plan, the EU’s CEAP, which was adopted in March 2020, seeks to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and a key part of that is switching to a circular economy system across the EU.
Their system follows voluntary as well as mandatory measures for both companies and individuals in order to achieve these goals. Some of their goals include analyzing materials used in high impact products (like electronics and textiles); allowing a right to repair electronics, prolonging their life; reducing plastic waste through banning certain single-use products and encouraging recycling; and implementing legislation that prevents greenwashing.
Although it’s an ambitious move, they’ve already seen some success. The EU has made big steps toward banning single-use plastic, encouraging tech companies to produce longer lasting batteries and create products that are simple to fix, and they are expected to introduce legislation that will limit greenwashing claims.
However, their effort is not without its problems. Because they must work with multiple independent countries in order to achieve these goals, some timelines have already been pushed back. Far from being a discouragement, the EU’s CEAP shows us that it is possible for many different countries to work together in order to achieve great sustainability goals, even if the path is fraught with obstacles.
TONTOTON’s circular approach
Here at TONTOTON, we share the belief that circularity is key to sustainability. Because of this, we use circularity in our system to remove plastic waste from the environment.
All of the orphan plastic collected is taken to cement factories where the plastic is used as fuel—it burns cleaner and more efficiently than oil, making it a fantastic fuel substitute—and the remaining ashes are poured into the cement, resulting in zero waste. Our system is circular because the plastic waste, which would usually sit in a landfill for decades, is instead used to power cement factories and converted into raw material.
Without a doubt, circularity is key to a more sustainable world. But, sustainability doesn’t have to be the only goal of a circular economy. Cities that have adopted circular practices have seen social and economic gains as well as other benefits beyond environmentalism. If we, as a global community, are to see a cleaner, brighter future, we need to look toward circular practices.