Circularity at Home: How to Apply a Circular Economy at the Local Level


For countless years, the world economy has operated on a linear model: we take raw materials, convert them into products, and once the products are done, we throw them away. Until recently, this model wasn’t too problematic; it seemed as though we had infinite resources, and the number of products we produced was small enough that the subsequent waste could be easily managed. In the last 100 years or so, this reality has drastically changed.

As a result of exponential industrial and population growth, rapidly developing countries, and mass consumption rates, we are using more raw materials and producing more waste than ever before. The linear model no longer works. In order to preserve our resources, we must move to circularity.

However, the move to circularity is not a simple one, even if it’s imperative. It means an entire overhaul of regulations, business models, industry approaches, and individual behavior. In order to achieve a worldwide circular economy, which we must, governments, businesses, and individuals must work together in order to achieve great change.

Many experts agree that achieving circularity at the local level is a key first step to moving toward a circular economy worldwide. Here’s why local circularity is crucial to attaining a global circular economy as well as saving communities that are most vulnerable to climate change and pollution. 

circular economy

When you think about circularity, it’s mostly a matter of changing how we consume products and materials. Adjusting the way that we approach our consumption is easier to accomplish when it’s focused on the local level. This way, we can make regulations and changes that positively adjust behavior while keeping in mind local governances, cultures, and habits.

Sustainability experts agree that circularity begins at the local level. From there, you can expand circularity to encompass the region, country, and hopefully one day, the world. This is for a number of reasons.

Materials reused on the local level means less transportation. This results in reduction of emissions, less dependency on the importation of materials, and lower costs, since materials will be reused and redistributed on a local level.

Resources become more available, especially in areas where resources are scarce. Because all materials are locally consumed, collected, and recycled, it keeps materials within the local community rather than having to trade and buy imported materials.

It ensures that resources are used to their full capacity. Rather than throwing a material away, a company can collect it, refurbish it, and resell it. This means more sources of income and potential for additional jobs and business opportunities, eventually growing the local economy.

Besides the practicality of circularity on the local level, members of local communities are more likely to change their behavior when they can see an instant impact from their actions. Especially in vulnerable communities, locals are the ones who feel the biggest immediate changes from sustainability projects in their area. For example, those who live in poorer beach communities will be the ones who benefit the most from beach cleaning projects. This means that they are also the ones who are more likely to engage in projects that are designed to clean up their communities.It’s difficult to visualize global issues, but if you can see an immediate change because of local circular economy systems, then you will be more likely to support and participate in circular strategies that will ultimately benefit the world as a whole.

How circularity can be achieved on a local level

plastic collection

Moving toward circularity is a long, arduous process. It means completely overhauling current models, which are mostly based on a linear economy, and adopting a circular approach without negatively impacting economic growth or placing added hardships on the community. In order to achieve this, it takes effort from local governments, local businesses, and the members of the community.

Local governments can assist this transition by adjusting their waste management models to become circular rather than linear. This means incentivizing recycling as much as possible, providing more recycling centers and waste management facilities that result in zero waste, and encouraging local businesses to move to a circular business model through regulation and education. 

Another proposed method to encourage producers to move toward circularity is through an extended producer responsibility model. This model places the responsibility of materials management in the hands of the producers, encouraging them to move toward circularity or face fines.

While circularity does depend in some part on local governments, we cannot rely upon lawmakers to create regulations and strategies in order to achieve circularity. Unfortunately, it is not the priority of many governments, especially in cases when waste management is largely up to the private sector. In these cases, local circularity is dependent upon individuals in the local community as well as private companies who encourage and practice circularity.

Local businesses and entrepreneurs can take first steps by using recycled materials in their products, eliminating single-use materials (like low-value, post-consumer plastic) that cannot be recycled, and by using their influence as community leaders to educate and encourage their customers to recycle their waste and opt for reusable materials in their daily lives.

Individuals can help by recovering their discarded materials in order to remove them in a circular manner. This can be through waste pickers, but individuals can also collect and sell discarded items that can be recycled or eliminated in a zero waste manner.

How TONTOTON supports local circularity

community plastic collection center

Here at TONTOTON, we are great believers in circularity. This is why our entire system is based on circularity, especially at the local level.

Our projects take place in locations that see tons of low value plastic waste—what we call orphan plastic—littering beaches. This is where literally tons of plastic eventually ends up in the ocean. Vietnam is one of the top five ocean plastic polluters in the world, which means that it’s imperative that we figure out a way to manage our beach waste. But besides this, plastic waste has a negative impact on those who live in these communities. The plastic waste pollution poisons the water and the land, greatly impacting the daily lives of those who live in these vulnerable communities. 

Because the people in these locations see the effect of plastic waste every day, they are motivated to rectify the issue. It’s a glocal solution: removing plastic waste will have a positive effect worldwide, but it’s the people in these communities who will enjoy the immediate benefit of cleaner beaches, cleaner water, and additional income sources. 

Our projects focus on a type of plastic that’s usually ignored: non-recyclable plastic. Up until now, this plastic has had no value to local waste pickers, and so this plastic was left on the beaches waiting to eventually become ocean plastic. We have monetized this type of plastic, which creates an additional source of income for members of the communities in which we work. This helps the local economy to grow while simultaneously removing non-recyclable plastic waste from the environment when it would have previously been ignored.

We then eliminate the plastic waste through co-processing. We work with cement factorieskilns to convert the plastic waste into fuel and raw material. Co-processing is an excellent example of circularity; rather than ending up in a landfill, the plastic waste is used to its highest extent.

Our approach has seen great success; the waste pickers who we work with have been able to provide more income to their families, recycling households have an additional material to sort and sell, and we’ve been able to remove tons of plastic waste from communities who greatly benefit from the cleanup effort. Because of this, we are expanding our efforts into northern Vietnam and fishing villages in Cambodia so that they, too, can benefit from the circular approach to plastic waste management that our projects support. 

Help us to promote circularity on the local level while achieving a more sustainable business model by investing in plastic credits through TONTOTON today.