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Help Us Circular Economy, You’re Our Only Hope

What is the Circular Economy?

Help Us Circular Economy, You’re Our Only Hope
Colin Freed
October 17, 2023
Circular Economy

In recent years, with a growing focus on how conspicuous consumption has contributed to increased greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, there’s a good chance you’ve come across the phrase “circular economy”. You’re probably familiar with the economy in general (it’s what those stiff people in suits are always yelling about on the mainstream news outlets), but if what comes to mind when you hear “circular economy” is an economy where all the goods and services are round in shape, that’s not quite right.

Linear vs. Circular

When defining the circular economy it helps to first discuss the current model that most economies across the globe operate under, which is called a linear economy. “Linear”, as you might have guessed, means it works like a straight line. Finite raw materials are at the beginning of the line, in the middle are all the processes happening to make the raw materials into something else, then at the end is…well, that’s where things get thrown away into landfills and we just pretend that’s okay and isn’t hurting anything. It’s also commonly referred to as the “take, make, waste” model. The linear model is great if you don’t give a crap about the planet or future generations that would like to live on it.

Fortunately for those of us who do give a crap about the planet and future generations - the circular economy is a viable, sustainable alternative. A circular economy operates much like good ol’ Mother Nature herself - similar to how a dead tree in a forest will decompose and provide nutrients for new flora and fauna, in a circular economy the loop is closed and the outputs of the economy go on to be reused and recycled through it. So instead of constantly destroying the environment to extract more materials, we maximize use of what we already have and make it last as long as possible. One of the premiere organizations helping to promote a circular economy, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, has put together the handy-dandy Butterfly Diagram to visually depict how a circular economy works.

Circular economy systems diagram by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (February 2019). The diagram showcases the flow of renewables and finite materials through various stages. Starting with 'Biosphere' in the center, which leads to 'Farming/Collection' and 'Biochemical Feedstock'. This moves to stages like 'Parts Manufacturer', 'Product Manufacturer', 'Service Provider', 'User', and then processes like 'Share', 'Maintain/Prolong', 'Reuse/Redistribute', 'Refurbish/Remanufacture', and 'Recycle'. There are side processes such as 'Biogas', 'Anaerobic Digestion', and 'Extraction of Biochemical Feedstock'. The aim is to minimize systematic leakage and negative externalities. The source and credits are given to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with additional references to hunting, fishing, and post-consumer waste inputs.
Butterfly Diagram. Source:

Going Forward

So you might be thinking now, “Wow! A circular economy sounds great! Why aren’t we just doing that everywhere already?” Well, the cold hard truth is that it was just easier to go with a linear model. Not thinking about what happens with what you produce after you sell it requires a lot less effort than, ya know, taking some time to be like “hmm maybe all this stuff I’m making might cause some damage down the road.” 

But we can’t let the mistakes of the past keep us from fixing things for the future. For businesses and brands, that means putting in the effort to: design goods for circularity, adapt business models to encourage less consumption, and make it as easy as possible for customers to keep their goods in circulation. For consumers, it means: reducing consumption, buying sustainably produced goods, and taking care of the things you own. One of our main goals with building Kwipoo is to make it easier for consumers and businesses to do all of those things.

Of course, for a circular economy to be truly sustainable it must come along with a transition to renewable energy sources to power it, as well as restructuring who the economy benefits so that everyone may be empowered to live fulfilling and peaceful lives. That’s the wonderful thing about a circular economy, it offers us so much opportunity for improvement over what we have.