The answer is the circular economy, a new way of doing things that has the power to curb waste, carbon emissions and our reliance on non-renewables, improve biodiversity, and establish a better farming system.
Yep, you read right. The circular economy model really does have the potential to do a lot of good, not least in terms of fighting the almighty climate crisis.
Let’s learn more about it and why we reckon circular is the economic system we so desperately need.
Hold up, hold up. What's a circular economy exactly?
Alright, we should probably get the basics out of the way first. Here’s the circular economy defined in a nice little nutshell: its purpose is to keep resources circulating, waste nothing, and reuse, repurpose, and repair things as much as possible.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. We here at Zero Co are almighty believers in the circular economy, which is how we came to develop our model.
And here’s a circular economy meaning that’s a bit wordier, courtesy of the World Economic Forum:
“A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals, which impair reuse and return to the biosphere, and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems, and business models.”
So, if we don’t already have a circular economy model, what do we have?
Currently, most of what we use sits in a linear system. That is, we take raw materials from the earth, make and use products, and then usually chuck those products in landfill, incineration, or worse, out in the environment.
When things break down, we tend to buy new things to replace them. Take electronics, for example, or even clothes. If our mobile phone stops working, our first thought is likely to go and get a brand-new one. If a T-shirt rips, it might get thrown out and replaced with some fresh threads.
In a circular economy, though, mobile phones would be better designed from the start so they can be easily repaired. Or, the materials inside would be extracted and reused in other products. Clothes could be fixed, too, but they could also be recycled so that the fibres can be turned into new items. Neat, huh?
And how can the circular economy help the climate crisis?
Where do we begin? There are tonnes of reasons why the circular economy is so great, but we thought we’d narrow it down to some of the top ones.
It curtails greenhouse gas emissions
This is a big one. We know that you know that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide aren’t doing the climate many favours. In fact, it’s widely accepted that greenhouse gas emissions due to human activity are the primary driver of the climate crisis. They trap heat and have a big hand in causing extreme weather events, air pollution, and problems with global food chains.
Producing, using, and getting rid of materials (so basically, a linear system) contribute a heck of a lot to greenhouse gas emissions – potentially up to two thirds of total emissions, according to the European Environment Agency.
But because the circular economy model focuses on renewable resources, efficient use and reuse of materials and products, and, overall, a much more sustainable approach to production and material management, it can help drive down those troublesome emissions, which we all know needs to happen ASAP.
It cuts down on waste
Through reusing, repurposing, and repairing, the ultimate goal of the circular economy is zero waste.
And what would a zero-waste world look like? Well, pretty fantastic. It would mean much less landfilling and incineration, fewer plastics and other rubbish ending up in our oceans, and a big drop in the by-products of waste – such as those aforementioned greenhouse gases, plus other environmental nasties.
It reduces the need for virgin materials and uses old ones instead
Needless to say, if materials are kept in circulation for as long as possible, the result would be much less reliance on extracting new ones. And as we know, producing new materials is a big driver of emissions.
For example, the bottles we use at Zero Co are made with 50% recycled ocean, beach, and landfill bound plastic and we've got a view of making this 100% irecycled plastic n the not-too-distant future. While not perfect, this means we've cut our need for virgin materials by half and we're cleaning up the ocean by using material that would otherwise be polluting our precious environment.
It establishes better farming practices
The circular economy doesn’t just apply to items like electronics, clothing, and cleaning products like ours. It encompasses agriculture, among many other things, too.
Agriculture is a significant contributor of greenhouse gas emissions (up to 31 percent, according to an OECD report) and in turn, the industry is also heavily impacted by the effects of the climate crisis.
In a number of ways, a circular approach to farming can help on both fronts. It could involve farmers making the most of plant and animal waste and turning it into fertiliser, or treating and reusing irrigation runoff instead of relying on fresh water – which can often be in short supply, especially during droughts. Other forms of this kind of regenerative farming include carbon capture and storage, diversifying crops, and improving soil health.
Not only would measures like these do wonders for the environment, but they could also save farmers money and help them better weather the impacts of a changing climate.
It can improve biodiversity
Biodiversity loss and the climate emergency kind of go hand in hand. The crisis is one of the main reasons why biodiversity loss is occurring, and at the same time, this biodiversity loss is only fuelling the effects of the crisis by removing Earth’s natural ability to control emissions. It’s quite the conundrum and a distressing one.
The current linear economy model that most of the world relies on is a big contributor to the problem. Issues like overfishing, plastic pollution, raw material extraction, and the mainstream agricultural system all help drive biodiversity loss, and therefore further propel the climate crisis.
According to an Ellen MacArthur Foundation report, a circular economy model could halt or even reverse biodiversity loss. By getting rid of waste and pollution, we can minimise the threats to biodiversity. By keeping materials and products in circulation, we can reduce the need for virgin materials and therefore leave more land to wildlife. And by focusing on nature regeneration, we can create an environment where wildlife can truly blossom.
That all sounds bloody good to us! Going circular is easy too. You can start by ordering one of our Starter boxes right here.