A circular economy is one which conserves inputs. Waste is minimized and resources are reused rather than being treated as waste after their initial use. The term is used to explain what is necessary to create a sustainable society - i.e. a redesign of how society and business operate.
The current economy is a linear system: resources are taken out of the ground, made into something and later thrown away. Only with a circular economy is sustainability possible.
In 2013, people around the globe bought more than 1.8 billion mobile phones. But now, nearly half of them are most likely in landfills or at homes, sitting there without any use, as their owners upgrade to newer versions. Imagine, however, if these devices went back to the manufacturers once their lifespan came to an end in order to be turned into new mobile phones. How much would that save the manufacturer in terms of raw materials and time? Or what would be the result if these devices didn't have to be replaced because they were easily repairable and upgradable?
This is what could be called a "Circular Economy" approach, a new model of production and consumption that thinks of our impact on the environment and our society as a whole. Circular Economy takes us away from the linear take-make-dispose economy we are immersed in and encourages us to rethink waste and energy use. It's an invitation to change from product design, manufacturing processes and supply chains, to consumer perceptions and our lifestyles. 
What is the Circular Economy?
The Circular Economy is an alternative to our dominant linear economic model. It is grounded in the study of living systems and nature itself. We are pretty used to collecting and transforming resources that are later consumed and, once their lifespan ends, become waste. However, if you look at nature, you can see that processes are totally different. A tree is born from a seed, it grows and reproduces and when it dies, it goes back to the soil, enriching it and providing nourishment for new life. How could we apply that process to the objects we use at home and work?
"Circular Economy is a new business paradigm, inspired by nature, where all energy and resources flows are maintained in closed loops, eliminating the concept of waste while generating economic, social and environmental value," explains Nicola Cerantola, founder and director of Ecologing, an organization that helps businesses find sustainable ways of doing their work. "The Circular Economy is not waste management — it is about exploring new mechanisms that enable a radical and regenerative transformation of the society towards a healthier, fairer and sustainable world."
The Circular Economy looks at all the options across the chain to use as few resources as possible in the first place, keep resources in circulation for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them while in use, and recover and regenerate products at the end of service life. Javier Goyeneche, co-founder of sustainable clothing brand ECOALF, puts it simply: "Circular Economy means not to understand garbage as a waste but as a potential resource that can be reused."
This new way of understanding goods also means designing products to last so that materials can be easily dismantled and recycled.
When was the concept born?
The concept of Circular Economy has been gaining momentum since the late 1970s, when researchers Walter Stahel and Genevieve Reday sketched the vision of an economy in loops and its impact on job creation, economic competitiveness, resource savings, and waste prevention. They conducted a research for the European Commission and published their conclusions later in a book called "Jobs for Tomorrow: The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy."
In many ways, the Circular Economy model shares key ideas with others such as Biomimicry, which studies nature and imitates its designs and processes to solve human problems; the Cradle to Cradle proposal, which advocates for extending a product lifespan; and the Blue Economy, that uses open-source solutions based upon natural processes.
Notes and references
- shareable.net, Mar 1, 2017
- Circular economy conserves inputs - The Science Show, ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 24 September 2011.