Recycling our way to sustainability
Author: Sarah King
Evidence of the economic opportunities that a circular economy could bring is mounting. The potential environmental impact is also clear. The move to a circular economy - a system that aims to reduce, reuse and recycle materials - could address 70% of global greenhouse emissions1. As the benefits stack up, this transition is becoming a key focus for policymakers around the world. But there remains much confusion about what a circular economy is, and how it might be achieved. One common misunderstanding is the notion that it is simply a rebrand of recycling - the recovery and reprocessing of waste materials for use in new products. This perception is reinforced because recycling is the most common component of almost 80% of circular economy definitions2. But, although recycling is an important element, there are many others. Before recycling comes into play there are several steps in a product’s life cycle that should be addressed, such as redesigning products and processes so that they use less virgin material, and re-using items rather than discarding them. New business models such as sharing and repairing can be adopted3. These approaches prioritize smart designs that extend a product’s useful life, before reaching the stage of recycling. These steps are consistent with the central aim of a circular economy: to provide economic productivity by eliminating the concept of waste.