With the global population projected to reach eight billion by 2030, circular economy proponents are increasingly being heard in their calls to optimize efficiency and close resource loops. A circular economy, or an economic system designed to regenerate and restore resources that would otherwise go to waste, ensures that a given society’s resources are utilized in the best possible way for as long as possible.
But adopting a circular economy approach also entails looking at the amount of waste that humans produce and how to minimize or repurpose it. According to a 2008 Living Planet report, people are using 30 percent more resources than the Earth can replenish annually. That, while 80 percent of the products that we use get thrown away within six months of their lives. And with three billion new middle class consumers expected to enter the market by 2030, which will create an unprecedented surge of demand, it is clear that it is more pressing than ever to close these resource loops.
Adopting circular economy principles has huge potential rewards as well. A report by Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that, adopting circular economy principles in the built environment, mobility, and food could potentially halve carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. And a Mckinsey study estimates that adopting circularity could add $1 trillion to the global economy by 2025 and create 10,000 new jobs within the next five years.
Circular economies are not just about reducing waste and closing loops – they can also create new revenue streams. One company in Glasgow, is using circular economy principles to make beer from wasted bread, while in London, the city’s iconic red buses recently began using coffee waste for fuel. In the U.S., startup ByFusion is using plastic waste to create construction building blocks. Other entrepreneurs, like the architects at Conceptos Plastics, have used recycled plastic waste to build shelters for displaced families in the Colombian city of Guapi, while further north in Panama, a Canadian inventor has helped build a plastic bottle village.
These are just a few examples of industrial symbiosis – the process of using waste produced by one industry as raw material for a new industry. This is most evident in waste-to-energy schemes, such as a power plant in Sweden that is using fast fashion giant H&M’s clothes to produce fuel and Copenhagen’s waste-powered energy plant Amagar Bakke – not to mention Singapore’s waste-to-energy plants, which have reduced the city-state’s waste volume by 90 percent.
This infograph by Rutgers’ School of Public Affairs and Administration shows how cities and policy-makers can move towards a circular economy through sustainable development.