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Circular economy – everything you need to know

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By Tamma Carel

· 5 min read


There is a growing need to adopt a new set of Sustainable Development Goals that aim to “Transform the World”. Change comes with collective effort, mutual understanding and knowledge towards specific goals.

Despite the UN and other international organizations making crucial decisions, the result is far from expected. It made me wonder what it is that we are falling short on? Is it the lack of interest or lack of awareness?

That’s when I had a eureka moment, and it suddenly started to make all sense. Many people don’t know the complicated terms and references used when discussing sustainability. The idea inspired me to create a new series called “The ABCs of Sustainability ”. I hope that this series of blogs is well received and serves its purpose.

What is the circular economy?

A circular economy is a systematic approach to economic development designed to benefit businesses, societies and the environment. Unlike a linear system of ‘best out of waste’, a circular economy is regenerative by design to reduce finite resources consumption.

The whole process looks into the material’s different biological and technical nature, different opportunities with using materials and products and creating an idea for continuous transformation.

A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design.

A circular economy aims to build the system’s health. The concept targets making the economies work effectively – whether small scale or large scale business, organisations or individuals, at a global or local level.

Factors associated with circular economy

  • It is designed from waste and pollution generated
  • It aims at keeping the products in use
  • Improve the traditional system
  • How does the circular economy work?

Designing products from waste and pollution

A circular economy aims to design economic activities that improve human health and optimises natural systems. All the pollution includes greenhouse gases, pollution and waste.

Keeping the materials in use

The products are designed to be durable and reusable – which can be remanufactured and recycled as per their nature to keep materials in the loop as much as possible. It encourages the use of different materials instead of just using them.

It improves living systems

A circular economy avoids using non-renewable resources by using only natural renewable resources. By restoring fossil fuels, it can save valuable nutrients in the soil to improve the soil conditions.

Who invented the concept of a circular economy?

Being highly thoughtful and philosophical, the concept of circularity cannot be credited to a single person. The idea was brushed and refined by a group of academics and thought leaders over some time including,

  1. Walter Stahel and Genevieve Reday
  2. Janine Benyus Biomimicry
  3. Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L.Hunter Lovins
  4. Kenneth Boulding
  5. Gunter Pauli

Illustration of circular economy

To begin with, before it even reaches your arms, an object has a long life. The straight line along the centre of the illustration depicts a linear system. Collecting natural resources, the majority of which are virgin is the first element in the development. This raw waste is converted into finished goods using tools, equipment, manual labour, and chemical or physical processing.

After the product is developed, it is delivered to retailers and made available for purchase and usage by customers. When the user has finished utilising the product, the linear process ends. It is placed on the curb for collection and then taken to a nearby MRF for processing. The used product then winds up in a landfill, where it will slowly degrade over thousands of years.

Is a circular economy critical?

The circular economy strives to throw away nothing, eliminating the demand for new items. It provides a dramatic contrast to our linear “take-make-dispose” economy, which is based on the idea that there will always be virgin resources to transform into goods and someplace to dispose of the garbage.

As the world’s population grows, it becomes evident that the assumptions of the linear economy aren’t accurate or, at the least, aren’t sustained. The industrial paradigm that has reigned since the First Industrialisation is under threat.

What are the opportunities for businesses?

Businesses should reduce costs and create a new profit stream. It involves analysing complex products, fast-moving products and circular economy that would support improvements.

A circular economy, in addition to providing immediate economic advantages to businesses and families, provides a tremendous chance to assist address global concerns such as the environmental crisis, resource depletion, and habitat destruction. It analyses the economic, ecological, and social advantages of these prospects and investigates the mechanisms that will bring them to scale.


Our economy is currently locked into a system that favours the linear model of production and consumption. However, this lock-in is weakening under the pressure of several influential disruptive trends. We must take advantage of this favourable alignment of economic, technological, and social factors to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. Circularity is making inroads into the linear economy and has moved beyond the proof of concept; the challenge we face now is to mainstream the circular economy and bring it to scale.

The prospect of a circular economy

The circular economy is an audacious goal that will face tremendous hurdles. Detractors may claim that it is unrealistic, yet we are now in the midst of a watershed moment in history. The possibility of future change raises critical issues for all of us: Do we still need to own items in the conventional sense, or may we have exposure to them? And what role do we play in conserving, reusing, and regenerating the natural environment we still have?

This article is also published on Imvelo. Energy Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Tamma Carel is Director and Senior Environmental Consultant at Imvelo. With an MSc in Environmental Management, Practitioner Membership of the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA) and IEMA/ IRCA Accredited Environmental Auditor, Tamma is also an Associate Lecturer at Northumbria University, Newcastle.

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