The Circular economy is a buzzword that has been circling around the sustainability movement for a while.
But what’s all the fuss about it?
Let’s try to understand a bit more about this magical concept. Let’s start with what a circular economy is NOT.
Since the first industrial revolution, our society has been following a linear economy model, a.k.a. take, make, waste. We don’t need to be Adam Smith or Pythagoras to appreciate that this doesn’t work.
You might have heard about the Earth Overshoot Day.
Spoiler: it’s not a new sci-fi movie, unfortunately. It’s the day we run out of the Earth’s yearly ecological resources.
Back in 2020, this dreadful anniversary fell on August 22 and has been occurring earlier and earlier over the last 50 years.
What’s the matter with that?
For the remaining four months of 2020, we borrowed resources available for 2021. In other words, we are living in an ecological deficit.
You might see why this is unsustainable!
So what can we do to move the Earth Overshoot Day later along the year?
A Circular economy is one of the answers to this question.
Based on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, one of the gurus in the field, there are three circular economy principles:
- Erase (ideally) or at least reduce waste upstream (i.e. design stage)
- Prolong the life of materials already in circulation (e.g. reuse, recycle, repurpose, remanufacture)
- Regenerate natural systems (e.g. soil)
To master the circular economy wizardry, we need to grab our wands and draw two cycles: technical and biological.
The technical cycle includes all materials which do not biodegrade, like metals, plastic, etc. We should try to recycle these back into the system to extend their life.
You might guess what the biological cycle is about.
Exactly, biodegradable stuff, like food, wood and other organic materials. We should make sure to return these to the soil (e.g. composting).
Doing so, we’ll kill two birds with one stone: avoiding waste and regenerating soil.
Yet, there is a key formula to remember: Never mix the two cycles!
Because you’ll break the spell of circular economy.
A prime example is polycotton.
This is an tricky blend of a technical material (polyester or plastic if you like) and a biological one (cotton). The issue is that we can’t separate them out. And guess what? Polycotton will end up in a landfill because of that!
But does the circular abracadabra work in the real world with real products, or it’s just a deceptive incantation?
Apparently it does!
It’s time to toss away the magical books and explore what innovative entrepreneurs (or magicians, if you wish) are doing to put the circular economy model into practice.
Here are four amazing Circular economy product ideas.
A premium vegan leather
What’s the magic trick to win an Apple-funded innovation award?⠀
A 100% sustainable, biodegradable and renewable fabric. That’s what the Colombian start-up Fiquetex came up with.⠀
They created a premium vegan leather out of Fique, a locally grown plant.⠀
What are the benefits of their circular economy model?⠀
The process uses only 10% of the energy needed to make Nylon (another fancy name for plastic)⠀
Climate change mitigation⠀
The Fique plantation will capture over 11,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2025⠀
More jobs for local farmers and communities⠀
Fiquetex use their durable fabric to make plastic-free carrier bags, sustainable packaging, etc.⠀
Soil health improvement⠀
Once their useful life is over, the vegan leather components will become natural fertilisers and return where they came from: The soil!
Plastic-free packaging from mushrooms⠀
You read it right! No hallucinations…⠀
The UK start-up Magical Mushroom Company is up-scaling its fungal empire.⠀
Their circular organic masterpiece can wrap cosmetics, food, or even a bottle of gin!⠀
A magic myco-trick to make plastic disappear!⠀
Even in this case, this bioprocess is circular.
Made of mushrooms roots (mycelium) and agricultural waste, this sustainable alternative to polystyrene will biodegrade in your garden in just over a month.⠀
From soil to consumer and back!
The circular vaccine against the plastic pandemic
Along with COVID, tons of single-use plastic spread across the globe over the last year.
While vaccines are now saving millions of lives, we haven’t found an antidote to the Coronavirus-driven plastic outbreak yet.
Not until now!
A Cardiff-based company has designed a game changing technology to recycle plastic-made surgical masks.
But their Sterimelt device does more than that!
Thermal Compaction Group (TCG) turn surgical masks and other medical waste into pellets and use them to make rubbish bins.
From waste to a waste container. Houdini could have not done better!
But that’s not the end of the magic show. Hospitals will reduce their carbon footprint by 75% as they won’t need to transport their waste far away.
TCG’s low-carbon circular invention could be the cure to save our planet from the plastic virus.
A magic recipe for chocolate
Who doesn’t like chocolate?
Whether white or dark, the sweet treat tastes even better when it’s made through a circular process!
That’s what Nestle is doing. The company is recycling cocoa fruit waste (pulp) to make a natural sweetener for its new delicacies formula.
This is not only healthier and more sustainable, but also socially responsible.
Because cocoa farmers will get a 40% income increase by upcycling what would otherwise be a waste for them.
To make it even more palatable to green consumers, the startup Koa is processing cocoa fruit pulp using solar energy.
According to the Upcycled Food Association, selling cocoa fruit worldwide would remove over 20 million tonnes of CO2 from the air per year!
Closing (the loop)
There you go. Unlike magicians, I revealed my circular economy secret.
The circular economy is not an illusion. Just pure magic except instead of using wands, these companies use technology and only (super)natural materials!
Let’s replace the vicious “take, make, waste” formula with the circular “reduce, reuse, recycle” chant!