The term circular economy – also known as circularity – refers to a regenerative system in which raw materials are used as long as possible. Circularity describes a closed system that minimizes the use of resource input and the generation of waste, pollution and CO2 emissions. All “waste” should be reintroduced into the cycle and used as “nutrient” or “input” for another process: either as a by-product, recovered resource for another industrial process or as regenerative resources for nature (e.g. compost).
In comparison, our current linear economy is based on a “take, make, dispose” model of production. It involves the extraction of natural resources to make products that are used for a limited period of time before being disposed of as waste. The circular economy, on the other hand, aims at designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.
The model of circularity basically distinguishes between biological and technical cycles. In the biological cycle, food and bio-based materials (e.g. natural fibres) are designed to feed back into the system through biodegradation (e.g. composting). These cycles regenerate living systems such as soil, which provide renewable resources for the economy. Technical cycles recover and restore products, components and materials through strategies like reuse, repair, remanufacture or recycling. A circular economy is therefore more than just a move towards waste reduction and increased recycling. It is a new approach towards designing and developing products and in general a new way of thinking about our economic activity.