A circular economy isn’t a new idea but it’s recently become the buzzword that everyone is talking about. There are plenty of examples of circular economy in action, and they span a range of different industries.
What is a circular economy? As opposed to a linear economy where end-products eventually have no use or functionality, a circular economy is a model that allows end-products to be recreated into usable goods again after their original product life cycle ends.
A circular economy aims to reduce waste by designing products and materials with reuse, recycling, or repurposing in mind as opposed to creating something that will end up in a landfill once it can no longer be used. The principles of circular economy are regenerative, meaning that supply for new production can be distributed from what has already been produced in the past.
The potential for a circular economy is massive; it has been calculated that implementing such an approach could cut CO2 emissions from production and services by up to 20% while simultaneously growing overall value. In this article, we take you through 5 examples of businesses successfully implementing the principles of the circular economy to create more sustainable solutions for the future in the following industries:
- Food waste reduction
- Textile recycling and upcycling
- Housing and construction
- Electronic equipment reuse
- Renewable energy and biofuels
Examples of Circular Economy in Food Waste Reduction
Food waste often ends up in landfills where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is significantly more potent than CO2. Food waste is also a valuable resource that could be repurposed and used to feed people in need if only there was a better way to collect and process it.
Feedback is currently collecting surplus food and produce that would otherwise go to waste from a variety of sources, including supermarkets, restaurants, and farms. This food is repackaged into single-use pouches and sold to consumers at a reduced price. As a result, nothing gets thrown away; if no one buys the food, Feedback uses it to feed livestock such as pigs or fish. Feedback is even building an online platform to allow other food businesses to sell their surplus food along with a network of community kitchens where this surplus food can be prepared and distributed for free.
FoodCycler is also tackling food waste by repurposing food that would otherwise be thrown out. The organization collects surplus food from retailers, manufacturers, and farms that would be used for fertilizer, animal feed, or general compost. It is then delivered to community gardens and farms where it is used to grow fresh produce. Through this closed-loop system, FoodCycler diverts hundreds of tons of food waste away from landfills and into fresh, healthy produce.
Examples of Circular Economy in Textile Recycling and Upcycling
There is a huge supply of waste textiles globally, and only a fraction of it is recycled into new fabrics. The rest is often thrown away, making it a major source of waste in many countries. A number of organizations have taken the lead in fighting textile waste by repurposing old clothing and fabrics.
RE.STATEMENT is one of these companies that participates in the circular economy without going through the extra process of recycling. It works with designers and small businesses who are already seeing potential in used or unwanted clothing at secondhand clothing stores, deadstock fabric, or materials that are no longer used. These designers are then creating new clothes from the good parts of these older materials and selling them to eco-conscious shoppers who are looking to stand out in original clothing.
FABSCRAP is a nonprofit that handles recycling textiles and collecting unused, unwanted fabrics and distributes them to fashion designers based out of New York City and beyond. It “endeavors to end commercial textile “waste” and maximize the value of unused fabric.”
There are also companies that repurpose waste fabrics into new fabrics. Patagonia, for example, has developed a patented process for turning post-consumer synthetic fabrics into new fabrics. The company has also created a program that recycles old Patagonia clothing and fabrics by reusing them to make something new.
Examples of Circular Economy in Housing and Construction
From materials to energy use, construction and real estate sectors have a significant carbon footprint. A circular approach can help reduce energy use, resource consumption, and pollution from these sectors.
Construction and real estate group Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has taken the lead in applying circular economy principles to the construction sector. RICS’s initiative, the Built to Last initiative, aims to make the construction sector more sustainable by reducing waste, improving resource efficiency, and encouraging innovation.
Arup, one of the world’s leading engineering and design firms, is also using circular economy principles to increase resource efficiency in the construction industry. The company has recently partnered with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to develop a framework and methodology for designing and engineering circular ecosystems.
Examples of Circular Economy in Electronic Equipment Reuse
The lifespan of many electronic products is shorter than expected, and many end up in landfills once they are no longer in use. A circular economy approach can help extend the lifespan of products and divert more waste from landfills.
Online electronics retailer Newegg has partnered with the nonprofit organization iFixit to encourage customers to repair their broken electronics rather than throwing them away. This program collects broken electronics from Newegg customers, and then iFixit provides repair instructions and parts so that customers can fix their broken products themselves. iFixit also partners with other companies to repair their products, and it has recently started partnering with Newegg to offer this service to Newegg customers as well.
Examples of Circular Economy in Renewable Energy and Biofuels
The energy sector accounts for a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions, so any strategy that can reduce its impact can go a long way toward making the economy more sustainable.
The World Wildlife Fund is working with partners to develop biobank facilities that can collect and store tree seeds. The seeds can be used to produce biofuels, reducing the demand for fossil fuels while also repurposing waste.
Wind turbine manufacturer Vestas is also using a circular economy approach to produce renewable energy. The company has partnered with Closed Loop Materials to repurpose waste materials from its production line into new materials.
The potential for a circular economy is massive; it has been calculated that implementing such an approach could cut CO2 emissions from production and services by up to 20% while simultaneously growing overall value.
These circular economy examples in food waste reduction, textile recycling and upcycling, housing and construction, electronic equipment reuse, renewable energy and biofuels are a great start to taking climate action and making the smart choice with our production processes.