Circular economy is based on the ideal that everything that is made has a purpose for the whole of its life. To make something that is never disposed of and is useful for the entirety of its existence is a high goal to reach. Just like other ideals the reality of the effort it would take to create a waste-less economy can be overwhelming. There are very few perfect circular economies, the ideal is rarely attainable. However, many people have taken the right steps towards improving their systems to reduce the amount of waste they produce. Every huge task needs to be broken down into steps, so before sinking our teeth into the companies that are attempting to contribute to a circular economy, let’s understand the segments of the economy itself.
There are six steps total:
Design & manufacturing – These steps are the creation of the product or material itself, and it is designed with the intention to fulfill more than just one use after its initial purpose.
Retail – From creation to the shelf, whatever is made must be sold (hopefully with the benefits of its multiple uses highlighted as selling points).
User – Whatever was made now gets to be useful as it was intended to be used throughout its initial life-time.
Re-pair/reuse/recycle – If the design/manufacturing step had planned for all future uses of a product past its original use, this step should be very straight forward. Either something is extremely easy to repair, its next stage is clearly laid out, or its recycling process has well defined steps. That is not always the case, sometimes strange uses come from objects that have nothing to do with their original uses whatsoever. Waste being inventively lessened can be the best way to engage with people, and get them involved in the process.
Recycling Sector – The recycling sector refers to any business or government body that deals in recycling anything. The step after this is Design and manufacturing again, where (again, ideally) whatever has been contributed to recycling that doesn’t have a secondary purpose is designed and re-manufactured for a second life.
There are countless businesses contributing to their own circular economy. One example that is close to home is Wellington startup Misprint Co, who repurpose waste paper into notebooks as opposed to recycling paper which costs huge amounts of water. Misprint Co participated in the Lightning Lab Manufacturing programme at the end of 2015 and keep the circular economy at the forefront of their business.
Not only are businesses being built around the circular economy, but long standing businesses have also realised its value and relevance. The Sustainable Business Network helps to provide tools for businesses to collaborate on sustainable ideas. Successful transitions offices make towards lessening their waste can be shared on the SBN’s platform. Because there are five steps to this kind of economy and an entire business can be based on a single step, collaborating is a necessary step to completing the full circle.
Aiming for a circular economy can actively reduce waste, and as frustratingly far away as the perfect model is, we can make huge steps together, towards improving the planet.