What is the circular economy?
To understand the circular economy, we first need to understand our current economy. We take materials from the earth, make things from them, like cars, fridges and phones, which we eventually throw away as waste. This is known as the linear economy, or the take-make-waste economy. It is not sustainable because the natural resources we use to make products are only used once before they are thrown away, generating mountains of waste and pollution.
The solution is in the circular economy approach, where products are designed from the very beginning so the resources used to make them can be reused and reinvested in new products over and over again, reducing the amount that goes to waste. The circular economy aims to:
- reduce waste and pollution
- reuse products and materials
- regenerate nature
To find out more, watch this short video from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Are governments doing anything to move us towards a circular economy?
Around the world, lots of governments are taking steps to move their countries towards a circular economy. For example, Canada, Finland and the Netherlands are all using circular economy strategies to help recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and fight climate change. Here in Australia, many state and local governments and private businesses have started initiatives to encourage circular economy practices. You can find out more at the Australian Circular Economy Hub.
What can I do to help the transition?
Even though it requires governments and institutions to make the changes necessary to move us from a linear to a circular economy, every one of us has a part to play in helping that transition. As consumers, we have a huge amount of power to bring about change. Here are some of the things we can all be doing right now:
Think before you buy – ask yourself if you really need to buy a new item. Maybe you can borrow or rent it instead, or buy it second-hand. If you have to buy new products, try to buy ones that are designed to be reused, refurbished and dismantled.
Look for ways to ‘go circular’ in your everyday life – think about the products you use at home. Can they be repurposed when you no longer need them? For example, you can reuse glass jars to store food or grow plants. You can donate old clothes to an op-shop instead of throwing them away or, if they are too old and tatty to give away, use them as cleaning rags around the house. Food waste fills our landfills and creates tons of harmful greenhouse gases so think about composting your waste and using it in your garden or in plant pots.
Tell your friends – the circular economy is still quite a new idea. So help spread the word by explaining it to your friends and family, and suggest ways they can join you in ‘going circular’ at home, at school or at work.