Why We Need A More Circular Model of Resource Consumption

plastic linear economy

For all the good it has brought us, our economic model is in need of a new direction. The global population will continue to grow and many emerging nations will look for increased prosperity. This is putting enormous stress on our environment and our resources, which are becoming more difficult to extract. Throughout its evolution and diversification, our industrial economy has hardly moved beyond one fundamental characteristic established in the early days of industrialisation: a linear model of resource consumption that follows a ‘take-make-dispose’ pattern. Companies harvest and extract materials, use them to manufacture a product, and sell the product to a consumer - who then discards it when it no longer serves its purpose. Indeed, this is more true now than ever; in terms of volume, some 65 billion tonnes of raw materials entered the economic system in 2010, and this figure is expected to grow to about 82 billion tonnes in 2020. Our myopic focus on producing and consuming as cheaply as possible also has created this linear economy in which objects are briefly used and then discarded as waste.

However, by applying the circular economy system, we could look forward to a future in which 9 billion people in 2050 can live well and sustainably. Apart from strong moral arguments, the transition to a circular economy will be driven by the promise of over one trillion US dollars in business opportunities, as estimated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This includes material savings, increased productivity and new jobs, and possibly new product and business categories.

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