Imagine a world without landfills. A world where everything is designed to be reused—where your old phone ends up as raw material in a factory, the cardboard box it came in ends up fertilizing a farm, and every process along the way has the same care taken with it.
That’s just one glimpse into the idea of a circular economy. By facing the future now, we can start to solve tomorrow's problems before they even happen.
For a hint at how to make this a reality, take a look at one process we experience: the circle of life. When living things die, they provide nourishment for other living things—fruit becomes deer becomes wolf becomes soil, becomes fruit again. In the long term nothing is wasted—because everything ends up back where it began.
Unfortunately, many of the things we buy don't work that way. When you replace your aging car with the 2016 model, your wagon doesn't end up back at the factory: it ends up in a landfill. All the steel, rubber, plastic, and electronics that make it up go to waste—forever.
This has relevance beyond what we personally buy and use. Throughout the economy, from the gathering of raw materials, to manufacturing and processing, to transportation, damaged and obsolete goods, and the materials they’re made of, it all can go to waste.
That's why we need to find a way to reclaim those materials, those technological nutrients, the same way biological nutrients are reclaimed. Imagine the same priority we put on recycling for aluminum cans and glass bottles, applied to every step of the industrial process.
Imagine that your old car does end up back in the factory, where it's stripped down to its components. The recyclable components become the inputs for building new cars (and other products—boots and blenders and bicycles), while others are composted and returned to nature. All the solvents, lubricants, and other once-disposable materials used in these processes are also recycled, or designed in the first place to be compostable. The facilities where this happens use solar and wind power, and vehicles running on renewable electricity bring your new car to the lot. From one product to another, nothing goes to waste.
This could be the norm for everything we make, and in fact, there's a very good reason that it should be. If we bake the ideas of recycling and composting into every step of our economic processes, they’ll become second nature. And that way, like the Earth itself, we can help keep our economy flowing forever.
The circular economy is about more than just one person, or one organization, or even one country. It's about building an entire system that functions as it could—as it should—by making the most of everything it has.
So what can you do? You can examine how your own work centers around the circular economy. You can seek out the companies and products that fit into the cycle, and support them with your wallet. You can add your voice to the growing chorus demanding a change for the better.