We’ve all been hearing a lot about the Circular Economy lately – but you’d be forgiven if you’re still a bit confused.
The Circular Economy is an increasingly popular concept among governments and business leaders, is the subject of many TED Talks, international conferences, and is making news headlines around the world.
It promises to transform how we produce, use, and consume goods. But to understand the Circular Economy and the radical shift it represents, we must first understand how our current economy works.
Take-Make-Waste: An outdated system
In the dominant economic system, resources are extracted, get used once, and are then disposed of. This model is called a Linear Economy, because materials only flow in one direction – toward a garbage dump.
Recycling within the Linear Economy is helpful, but it isn’t enough to address the waste inherent in the system. According to a recent study by Amsterdam-based think tank Circle Economy, only 9% of the 92.8 billion tonnes of minerals, fossil fuels, metals and biomass that enter the economy are re-used annually.
A circular approach for a sustainable economy
A Circular Economy, on the other hand, is inherently regenerative:
- Renewable energy powers the system, and the only resources utilized are renewable.
- Products are designed to last longer, so that we use fewer resources.
- Product design allows for repair and refurbishment as products age.
- When the product reaches the end of its life cycle, all of the resources in that product can be reused again in new products.
The Circular Economy is structured to be financially, environmentally, and socially sustainable.
Transitioning our economy to a more circular model will create more jobs and drive innovation. According to global consulting firm Accenture, the Circular Economy could generate $4.5 trillion of additional economic output by 2030.
To help businesses get on board, Accenture also identified five proven circular business models:
- Circular Supplies: Use renewable, bio based or fully recyclable input materials
- Resource Recovery: Recover useful resources or energy from products or by-products
- Product Life Extension: Make products and components last longer through repair, upgrades and resale
- Sharing Platforms: Use technology to maximize the potential use of existing products
- Product as a Service: Offer product access rather than ownership
You can see these business models above in action in the National Zero Waste Council’s Case Studies, which showcase Canadian businesses at the forefront of the Circular Economy.
The transition to a Circular Economy is already underway. The European Union is leading the way, having recently adopted a continental action plan, with countries like Finland spearheading the movement.
In Canada, meanwhile, the National Zero Waste Council – a leadership initiative uniting among others, six of Canada’s largest metropolitan regions – Metro Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Calgary and Edmonton – with key business and government leaders, academia and non-profit organizations, is calling for national action and systems change to address waste generation and the transition to a circular economy.
And the Circular Economy Leadership Coalition, a not-for-profit coalition including corporate and NGO leaders, think tanks, and sustainability experts, has announced its goal to eliminate waste and accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions from the Canadian economy.
A recent Business in Vancouver article highlighted some of the efforts underway to get Canada aboard the Circular Economy train:
[A] number of big businesses operating in Canada – ones responsible for producing a huge amount of consumer waste – are starting to embed circular economics in their own operations.
Businesses belonging to the Circular Economy Leadership Coalition include Unilever Canada, Ikea Canada, Loblaw Cos. Ltd. and Walmart Canada. All have adopted their own circular economy strategies.
Walmart Canada, for example, has committed to zero landfill waste by 2050. Its own internal charter on plastics commits the company to: eliminating PVC and polystyrene packaging in Walmart brands; eliminating single-use plastics in its cafeterias; eliminating unnecessary plastic packaging in its own brands; and reducing plastic bags at its checkouts by 50% by 2025.
Ikea Canada has already taken steps to ban plastic straws in its cafeterias and has a new “sellback” program in which customers can take their old Ikea furniture back for in-store credit.
In addition to major corporations, the Circular Economy Leadership Coalition also includes the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the National Zero Waste Council, Smart Prosperity Institute, Natural Step Canada and lnstitut EDDEC as founding members.
Now’s the time to get on board
The Circular Economy is gaining momentum in Canada. Businesses are reducing their waste and transforming their supply chains. Entrepreneurs are identifying new ways to provide services and products that don’t generate waste. Governments are exploring new policies that foster the development of a Circular Economy, and consumers are making changes to waste less.
Whether you’re totally new to the concept or an industry veteran, the Zero Waste Conference in collaboration with the National Zero Waste Council strikes a balance between theory and action. The conference is your guide to the people, ideas and actions that are having the biggest impact.
2019 Zero Waste Conference:
Mobilizing for Success in the Circular Economy
October 30 – 31, 2019
Vancouver Convention Centre (999 Canada Place)