- What Is A Linear Economy?
- What Is A Circular Economy? What Can It Achieve?
- Key Steps To Shift Towards A Circular Economy
- Challenges Transitioning From A Linear To A Circular Economy
- Opportunities And Solutions: A Transition
- What Can Policymakers And Governments Do?
- What Can Businesses And Industries Do?
- What Can Think Tanks, Educators, And Activists Do?
- What Can Consumers Do?
- Industries Or Products That Are The Most Impacted
- Some Successful Transition Stories
- Moving Forward
- Why Is The Transition From A Linear To A Circular Economy Essential?
- Achieving The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
- THRIVE Framework
Transitioning from a linear to a circular economy is one of the THRIVE Framework’s 12 Foundational Focus Factors. The Foundational Focus Factors are the strategies THRIVE has developed through critical thinking to guide humanity towards a Thrivable future. Thus, transitioning from a linear to a circular economy is the beginning step on the journey to becoming a more sustainable society.
What is a Linear economy?
The present linear economic system is based on extracting raw materials from the earth, processing them into goods, and eventually disposing of them as waste. In a world of growing consumption and pollution, a linear economy has the following drawbacks:
- Depletion of raw materials.
- Destruction of biodiversity.
- Temperature increase.
- A rise in CO2 emissions
- Pollution of air and water.
- Expensive production inputs.
- Increase in waste.
What is a Circular economy? What can it achieve?
A circular economy is an alternative approach to living within our Earth’s natural means while still providing for the Earth’s population. Thus, in a circular economy, goods are produced, used and reused. This means when things reach the end of their useful lives, they are recycled into new goods and resources rather than ending up in landfills. As a result, products keep their value for a long time, thereby giving this approach its name: “circular”.
The circular economy is a business model that aims to maximise the value of resources while minimising waste by reusing them as much as possible. This can maintain a sustainable business model in several ways: Firstly, by promoting resource efficiency, designing for circularity, encouraging collaboration, as well as reducing environmental impact and providing economic benefits. For example, oil companies have renewable options for using unsustainable resources/fossil fuels.
Oil companies are a key example of how we can transition to a circular economy. These companies can invest in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies that capture carbon dioxide emissions from industrial processes. In sum, this allows them to store the CO2 emissions underground. Such technologies can, as a result, aid in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the mitigation of climate change.
Furthermore, oil companies can invest in renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, or geothermal power, which allows them to reduce their reliance on non-renewable resources. Oil companies can adopt circular business models that focus on product design, reuse, and recycling or implement closed-loop systems that recover and reuse materials.
Oil companies can also produce biofuels such as biodiesel, bioethanol, or biogas by converting organic matter into fuel. Importantly, biofuels are able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a renewable alternative to fossil fuels.
A Circular Economy in the Seafood Industry
Like oil companies, the seafood industry can also move towards a circular economy that promotes sustainability, reduces waste, and protects the environment. This can be achieved by designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.
Key steps to shift towards a circular economy
Changing our mindset.
Changing our mindset means accepting the reality; that we have one planet with finite resources, and our population is increasing. On top of that, we are also dealing with unprecedented environmental instability. It is necessary to move from a mindset of sustainability to one of thrivability, where we can live in harmony with the planet.
The regeneration of natural systems in a circular economy.
Given that our world is changing, we need to transition to renewable energies, reduce harmful greenhouse gasses, and renew biodiversity and natural ecosystems to increase resistance to climate change. We can achieve this by creating artificial reefs, fishing responsibly, and exploring alternate solutions to climate control, such as methane hydrates, biomass, and biogas.
Utilising Products and Materials for Longer in a Circular Economy.
By embracing responsible consumption and focusing on sustainable business models, we can use materials and products for longer. For the transition to a circular economy, sustainable business models that promote reuse, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing, recycling, and zero waste are vital.
To remove waste and pollution from our economy, we need to develop circular products. With this in mind, products should be easier to repair and remanufacture. Furthermore, they should be biodegradable and can be recycled infinitely. Examples of this include using algae-based plastic for packaging, making replacements easier, and using living designer construction materials.
Business Entities can Adopt a Circular Economy through Sustainable Business Models.
Business entities can apply a unified theory to transfer us from mono-capitalism to multi-capitalism. In opposition to multi-capitalism, mono-capitalism focuses solely on the economic bottom line. On the other hand, multi-capitalism considers a triple bottom line: economic capital, social capital, and environmental capital.
In light of this, it is important to set measurement standards that help us understand our path, such as those by the World Benchmarking Alliance. Furthermore, in anticipating the future we can set goals and work backward to the present, allowing milestones to be met along the way. This is technically known as backcasting.
Instil Regulatory and Legal Frameworks.
Legal frameworks and regulations that incentivise and strengthen circular business models are also paramount in achieving a circular economy. As can be seen, a prime example is the UK tax on plastic packaging, as well as that 95% of waste is being recycled in the Republic of Korea. Other examples include the European Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan by the European Union (EU).
We need effective policies to incentivise and strengthen circular business models. These will, as a result, help attract investment and innovation towards circular economy initiatives.
Challenges transitioning from A linear to A Circular Economy.
There needs to be more conversations within industries on unchecked consumerism, even when businesses are comfortable talking about climate change and efficiency improvements. Traditional business models have worked well financially in the past. Therefore, addressing the challenges of a circular economy is uncomfortable and unmentioned.
Circular economy models are often viewed by businesses as restrictive, with concerns that they may limit resource usage and lead to an economic halt. However, such perceptions are harmful because relying on overconsumption and unlimited resources is not sustainable. The world is already exceeding its ability to provide raw materials, energy, and water to run businesses. Despite this, the shift towards a circular economy presents immense economic opportunities. There are at least US$12 trillion in private sector opportunities available for this transition. To seize these opportunities, it is necessary to look through new lenses and be willing to transform.
The Cost of Renewable Energy.
Renewable energy is a complex issue. After all, renewable energies aren’t cheap. Access to critical metals for renewable energy can also cause environmental harm and comes with human rights challenges. However, there are growing examples of high-carbon energy sources getting more expensive in some countries while preserving societal integrity.
Some believe that sustainability means they should ‘make do with fewer goods’. Instead, we should demand high-quality products that provide long-term value. Companies must, therefore, innovate new business models to deliver goods and services in a different way. They need to use their influence to shape markets and consumer demand. In doing so, they will ensure that economic growth no longer depends on the exhaustion of the planet’s resources nor the disruption of natural systems.
Along with the circular design of products, multidisciplinary thinking is crucial. Biomimicry, which learns from sustainable ecosystems assists in constructing new products and services. However, this fourth industrial revolution requires creatives from multiple disciplines who can construct practical solutions. Such innovation is usually difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises that often lack awareness. They are further hindered by a weak management vision towards implementing a circular econom implementation.
The economies in developing nations rely on cheap and environmentally unsustainable resources. These resources are used to build infrastructure, generate jobs, and achieve economic growth, bringing people out of poverty. However, this is unsustainable in the long term. As these countries continue to develop, it is important to find ways to support sustainable growth that preserves natural resources and ensures the well-being of future generations.
Collective Industry Leadership and Policies
These are time-consuming and require cooperation at a global level. Sustainable policies are necessary to ensure that there is infrastructure and adequate incentives for essential circular activities such as resource recovery, recycling, and reverse supply chains.
Opportunities and solutions: Transitioning to a circular economy
The transition from a linear economy to a circular economy involves redesigning the current economic system to eliminate waste and prioritise the sustainable use of resources. This shift can provide numerous solutions and opportunities, including:
A circular economy can create social benefits such as job creation, increased economic stability, and improved quality of life. It can also promote social inclusion and reduce inequalities by creating opportunities for marginalised groups. Accordingly, a study found that the circular economy could create more inclusive and sustainable economic growth.
New Business Models
“Innovative business models are necessary to facilitate the transition to a circular economy” (Ghisellini et al., 2016). A circular economy requires businesses to rethink their current business models and transition towards more sustainable and innovative solutions. In order to achieve this, they must implement product-as-a-service models, circular supply chains, and closed-loop production systems.
The circular economy aims to maximise resource efficiency by reducing waste and preserving natural resources. This can be achieved by designing products that are durable, repairable, and recyclable. It can also be achieved by implementing closed-loop production systems that recycle waste into new products (European Commission, 2020). A study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that the global adoption of circular economy principles could reduce the use of virgin materials by 80-90% by 2050.
Promoting Sustainable Consumption
Promoting sustainable consumption involves educating consumers about the benefits of circularity, as well as incentivising sustainable behaviour through policy and regulation (Cooper et al., 2020).
A circular economy can provide a competitive advantage for businesses by reducing costs, improving resource efficiency, and reducing risk. Not to mention, it can also enhance reputation and brand value by demonstrating environmental responsibility. A study by Accenture found that companies that adopt circular economy principles could unlock $4.5 trillion in economic growth by 2030 (Accenture,2018).
A circular economy can reduce environmental degradation and pollution, thereby helping to mitigate climate change. A study by the European Commission found that a circular economy could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the EU by 48% by 2030, compared to 2014 levels.
Leveraging Digital Technologies
Digital technologies, such as the Internet of Things and blockchain, can provide important opportunities for transitioning to a circular economy. They achieve this by enabling greater transparency, traceability, and efficiency across the entire value chain.
Collaboration and Networking
“Collaboration and networking among stakeholders are essential for realising the potential of the circular economy”. By working together, businesses, governments, and other stakeholders can create a more circular economy by sharing knowledge, resources, and best practices (Stahel, 2016).
Achieving a circular economy: What can policymakers And governments do?
The shift from a linear to a circular economy necessitates significant changes in policy and governance structures. Governments can establish targets and policies that encourage the transition to a circular economy (European Environment Agency, 2016). For example, they can set targets for reducing waste or increasing the use of recycled materials. They can also introduce policies that support circular business models, such as extended producer responsibility schemes or product take-back programs. Policies by governments, such as the Critical Mineral Strategy, create strategies to procure minerals that have a high supply risk that are essential for local industries. Additionally, they should include circular economic principles.
Educate and Raise Awareness
Furthermore, Governments can educate the public and raise awareness about the benefits of circularity and the negative impact of linear economy practices. Moreover, this can lead to increased demand for circular products and services, ultimately accelerating the transition to a circular economy.
Encourage Collaboration and Foster International Cooperation
Governments can encourage collaboration between businesses, researchers, and other stakeholders to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. Governments can work together to develop shared targets and policies, facilitate knowledge sharing, and support the development of circular supply chains (European Commission, 2020). Also, this can include creating networks and platforms for knowledge sharing and collaboration.
Governments can also foster innovation by supporting research and development of new technologies and business models that facilitate the transition to a circular economy (European Environment Agency, 2016). This can include funding for startups, tax incentives for circular businesses, and support for the development of new circular products and services (World Economic Forum, 2014).
Achieving a circular economy: What can Businesses and industries do?
Business companies should adopt circular business models that prioritise the reuse, repair, and recycling of products and materials. Some examples of circular business models include leasing, sharing, and take-back programs.
Companies should also invest in the sustainable design of future products. Correspondingly, current products should also be redesigned with circularity in mind. This can involve using materials that are easily recyclable or biodegradable, designing products with a longer lifespan, and using modular designs that can be easily disassembled and repaired.
By leveraging digital technologies, companies can improve resource efficiency and increase the reuse and recycling of materials. For example, they can use data analytics to optimise production processes and reduce waste.
Furthermore, employees and stakeholders need to be educated about the benefits of circular economy practices and encouraged to adopt sustainable behaviours both in the workplace and in their personal lives.
Collaborating across the value chain to optimise resource use and reduce waste is yet another strategy to assist with the transition to a circular economy. Businesses can collaborate with suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders to develop closed-loop supply chains, share knowledge and resources, and improve transparency and traceability.
What can think tanks, educators, And activists do?
Think tanks, educators, and activists can provide policy recommendations to governments and businesses on the benefits of a circular economy (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2019). Furthermore, they can create platforms for dialogue between stakeholders to identify and address barriers to circularity. Also, they can analyze the economic, social, and environmental impacts of a circular economy and propose strategies to implement it effectively.
Educators and Activists Play a Vital Role
Educators can shape the mindset of future generations towards a circular economy. Additionally, they can incorporate circular economy concepts into their teaching and develop educational materials that promote sustainable practices (Suaez-Eiroaet et al., 2021). As well as this, they can collaborate with businesses to provide hands-on learning opportunities for students to apply circular economy concepts in practice (European Commission, 2020).
Activists can campaign to promote a circular economy and put pressure on policymakers and businesses to adopt circular practices through advocacy and awareness-raising (Schmuck et al., 2019). Also, they can support community-led initiatives that promote circularity, such as repair cafes and shared economy platforms.
Achieving a Circular Economy: What can consumers do?
Instead of disposing of broken items, consumers can repair them or repurpose them for another use (United Nations Environment Programme, n.d.). For example, old clothing can be upcycled, and broken electronics can be repaired instead of being thrown away (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017). Similarly, purchasing second-hand items can extend the life of products. This consequently reduces the need for new production. Consumers can buy these online, at thrift stores, or through local buy-and-sell groups.
Support Circular Businesses
Consumers can support businesses that avoid greenwashing and embrace circular economy principles (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015). This includes businesses that use sustainable materials, reduce waste, and design products for repair and reuse. Certifications on product labels will also help in avoiding greenwashing brands.
Recycle and compost
Recycling and composting can divert waste from landfills and also contribute to a more circular economy (United Nations Environment Programme, 2018). Consumers can learn about what materials can be recycled in their area and compost food waste at home (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2022).
Industries or products that are the most impacted
The transition from a linear to a circular economy can have a significant impact on various industries and products. Some of the most impacted sectors and products include manufacturing, fast fashion and electronic waste.
The transition to a circular economy involves changes in manufacturing processes and supply chains. According to a study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2013), this transition could create economic benefits of up to $630 billion per year for the manufacturing industry globally.
The fast fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries globally. The transition to a circular fashion system is crucial for reducing waste and pollution.
Similarly, the electronics industry generates a significant amount of electronic waste each year. This waste is harmful to the environment and human health. According to a report by the United Nations, only 20% of global e-waste is recycled. The rest, unfortunately, ends up in landfills or incinerators.
From linear to circular: Some successful transition stories
Several countries have made significant progress in transitioning from a linear to a circular economy. It is important for us all to recognise their actions and follow their example.
The Netherlands is often cited as a leader in the circular economy. The country has implemented policies and programs to encourage businesses and consumers to reduce waste and embrace circular practices (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2021). There are a number of policies in place to promote the circular economy, such as a tax on waste incineration and a ban on landfilling organic waste. The country has also set a target to achieve a fully circular economy by 2050, which includes reducing resource consumption, increasing resource efficiency, and promoting the use of renewable energy.
Finland has also been recognised for its efforts in transitioning to a circular economy. The country has implemented policies to reduce waste, increase recycling, and promote circular business models. For example, the government has established a national circular economy program and a circular economy action plan that includes specific targets for reducing waste (Finnish Ministry of the Environment, 2016).
The system, established in the 1950s, requires consumers to pay a small deposit when purchasing a beverage in a plastic, glass, or metal container. The deposit is refunded when the consumer returns the empty container to a collection point. This system leads to high rates of recycling, with over 90% of beverage containers being recycled in Finland. It has also reduced litter and waste, as consumers are incentivised to return their containers rather than throw them away. Additionally, the collected containers are used as raw materials in the production of new products, contributing to a circular economy where resources are reused and waste is minimised.
Germany has also made significant progress towards a circular economy, with a particular focus on waste reduction and resource efficiency. The country has implemented policies and programs to promote recycling and the use of renewable resources (Federal Ministry for the Environment, 2016). Germany’s Packaging Act, which was introduced in 2019, sets targets for the recycling of packaging waste and requires businesses to take responsibility for the disposal and recycling of their packaging materials.
Japan has also made progress towards a circular economy, with a focus on promoting the “3Rs” (reduce, reuse, and recycle) and resource efficiency. The country has implemented policies and programs to reduce waste and promote recycling, such as the “sound material-cycle society” initiative. Furthermore, Japan has also developed a circular economy roadmap that includes specific targets for reducing waste and increasing resource efficiency (Circular Economy Vision, 2020).
The Global CFC phaseout for Ozone Layer protection
In 1987, an international treaty was signed by 197 countries, who each have phased out 98% of ODS globally compared to 1990 levels. This unprecedented multilateral action was taken to regulate the production and consumption of nearly 100 man-made chemicals referred to as ozone-depleting substances (ODS), which were proven to be thinning the ozone layer. Since then, the ozone layer has begun to repair itself.
Transitioning from a linear to a circular economy is one of THRIVE Framework’s 12 Foundational Focus Factors. It is a credible, measurable, and implementable transformation mechanism that addresses the current crisis, moving us beyond sustainability towards thrivability, ensuring that present and future generations can enjoy a sustainable society and a thrivable future.
Why is the transition from a linear to a circular economy essential?
The THRIVE project aspires to evince a “thrivable” zone using a Ciambella Chart and a systemic holistic model including 12 Foundational Focus Factors. The Ciambella Chart outlines the minimum, known as the social floor and the maximum, known as the environmental ceiling. The social floor reveals the minimal requirement for present communities in developed nations. The environmental ceiling marks the upper limit of environmental harm allowed before it becomes unsustainable. Therefore, transitioning from a linear to a circular economy is vital to staying within these boundaries.
achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The Sustainable Development Goals are a blueprint for humanity to achieve peace and prosperity. There are 17 goals, with 169 targets spanning between them. Transitioning from a linear to a circular economy addresses 9 of the 17 SDGs.
Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Transitioning to renewables, such as wind and solar, not only reduces the demand for non-renewables but also minimises pollution from the burning of fossil fuels.
Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
“Moving towards a more circular economy could increase competitiveness, stimulate innovation, boost economic growth and create jobs” (European Parliament News, 2023).
Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
Reducing and reusing materials used in infrastructure and innovation will assist in the transition from a linear to a circular economy by reducing the amount of resources necessary to build.
Goal 10: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
The main goal of a circular economy is sustainability. A circular economy promotes suitability in every aspect of an individual’s life, spiralling outwards into the greater community at large.
Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
Shifting the mindset from buy, use, and dispose to reduce, reuse, and recycle is the pattern needing adoption for the transition to a circular economy.
Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
Urgent action is necessary to combat climate change. By transitioning to a circular economy, climate change is tackled through the reduction of CO2 emissions.
Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
Conserving what is available, whether in the sea or on the land, is a crucial component of a circular economy.
Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
Repairing, reusing, and recycling products protects Earth by not taking more than what is necessary.
Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.
Global, federal, and state policies are necessary at the legislative level to ensure businesses transition to circular methods of trade.
Safeguarding human well-being in all domains is paramount to THRIVE’s mission. The THRIVE project is focused on assisting in the transition from a linear to a circular economy in whatever way it can. THRIVE understands that to build a sustainable future for everyone, we need to conserve resources, eliminate waste and reduce pollution.
To learn more about how THRIVE Project is researching, educating and advocating for a future beyond sustainability, visit our website. You can follow our informative blog and podcast series and learn about our regular live webinars featuring expert guests in the field. Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates.
Keywords: circular economy, linear economy, seafood industry, sustainable consumption, waste reduction, recycling, resource efficiency, policies, business models, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, national circular economy program, circular economy action plan, renewable resources, renewable energy, 3Rs, sound material-cycle society, circular economy roadmap, policy and targets.