There is an old adage that goes, “Waste not, want not.” The Ellen MacArthur Foundation embraces the concept of a circular economy as being both sensible and sustainable – wasting nothing so that the world shall not want. Indeed, it is the ultimate goal of recycling – to reuse materials as many times as possible and to minimize the mining or creating of new materials to manufacture the goods needed. A circular economy mimics the natural ecology of our world – nothing is every wasted or thrown away, it is consumed and renewed.
How does a circular economy work? It begins with planning in the ability to recycle materials. One of the frequent complaints about recycling plastics, for example, is that when the manufactured items are melted down for recycling, the process consumes more energy and creates more pollution than creating new plastic. By installing devices that can capture and reuse even the chemical fumes before they have the opportunity to exit the factory, these materials can be reclaimed from goods that have been returned for recycling. Since they have been returned to their parent company, it then takes very little effort to use the material in making new goods.
Another aspect of a circular economy is creating an incentive for consumers to return the material for recycling. Less than fifty years ago – soft drink companies such as Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper sold their beverages in reusable glass containers. Sadly, the five cents or so that the consumer would be paid was frequently insufficient to be enough of an incentive to return every bottle. In addition, the retailers had to store the bottles, and then they had to be shipped back to the company. It became harder and harder to locate a retailer who would take back the deposit bottles. Soda began to be sold in 2 liter plastic – which also has the potential for recycling, but frequently ends up in a landfill, adding to the waste problem.
A third consideration is how the recycling or reusing of a material or item will affect the world around the factory. The company must focus on creating a small footprint, using minimal energy and water, creating zero polluting emissions of any kind. More than that, it needs to be able to partner with like-minded companies to gain the power needed for production, to move the goods it produces and to bring the constituent parts back to the factory.
A circular economy is the only sensible solution to our current world economy. There is no “away” for trash, and the world cannot sustain the linear model of make it, use it and throw it away much longer. No matter where it is placed, waste goes into someone’s backyard – frequently reducing the quality of life in that location.
If you would like to learn more about how you can help create a better world by following the old adage “waste not, want not” by applying the newer slogan, “reduce, reuse and recycle,” the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has pamphlets and other publications to help you and the businesses you patronize or even your own business to develop a lean, circular economy for a better world for everyone.