The world is a dynamic place - constantly evolving and changing. And in order to keep pace, we need to evolve our practices, systems, and models in order to complement the needs and desires of the current climate. With the growing widespread awareness of climate change, it's not surprising to see new sustainable models - like the circular economy - being adopted as a way to tackle rising environmental concerns. Though widely discussed amongst certain groups and organizations, the circular economy remains a new concept to many. So what is the circular economy and why is it important? Let’s break it down.
Linear Economy Vs Circular Economy
Before talking about a circular economy, one needs to understand the economy that currently exists known as a linear economy. A linear economy follows the “take-make-dispose” model. This means raw materials are collected, transformed into products that are used, and then discarded as waste. The problem with this model is that value is created in the system by producing and selling as many products as possible with no thought given to the product’s end-of-life. As a result, our earth endures excessive trash and mounting landfills, which produce toxic methane emissions. But what if something could be done with the waste? What if it could be transformed into new products or become a source of energy?
In a circular economy, all forms of waste (i.e., clothing, scrap metal, old electronics, etc.) are returned to the economy. In this system, value is created by focusing on preservation and extending the life cycle of a product. Additionally, more thought is given to how raw material is sourced. For example, many companies are now offering tree-free toilet paper made from bamboo. Bamboo is a highly renewable resource that grows quickly, unlike trees which take a lot longer to grow. At its core, a circular economy model intentionally designs waste out of the system versus accepting that it's an unavoidable part of the system.
Why Is The Circular Economy Important?
The difference between a linear economy and a circular economy is clear, but why is a circular economy so important? For one, our world’s population is dramatically growing in size. In 1999, the global population was around 6 billion and today (2022) we’re closing in at 8 billion! More people means greater demand on raw materials which come in finite supplies. Think of food as an example. There is only so much land to grow and harvest plants or raise livestock and with a growing population, this poses a direct threat to people everywhere.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking for creative solutions to this issue, which is why they recently launched the ARSX2022 Challenge. The challenge utilizes crowdsourcing and open innovation to solicit circular economy solutions that will improve and enhance the agricultural process. Ideas could include technologies and practices to retain and regenerate soil health, increase the nutrition density of foods while not compromising taste and sensory experience, and more! If you have a buzzing idea to maximize resource utility, foster ecological regeneration, or other concepts that could support circular agriculture, be sure to check out the challenge guidelines. No question, the circular economy marks the next big step in our path toward creating a more sustainable future which is why it is unquestionably the economy of the future.