What is the circular economy and what is its impact on the environment?


Our actions have consequences. Since the first Industrial Revolution, the pressure on natural resources has been increasing. It is undeniable that the development experienced since the last century has generated prosperity in the world, but it is also causing significant damage to the planet.

To try to curb this negative impact on the environment, the circular economy seeks to reduce or, if possible, eliminate waste . The idea is to redesign the entire system to be more sustainable at each point of the process. 

What is circular economy

The circular economy has a seemingly simple approach: small gestures will help save planet Earth.

In this sense, it is presented as the best option to stop the mistakes made by human beings. And, by the way, get a society more aware of its actions, more responsible with the surrounding environment, and more active in protecting the environment .

Those little gestures, interestingly, all begin with R:

  1. Reuse : extend the life of the products we consume, to give them a second chance, reducing their environmental impact. This allows us to dream of a collaborative economy based on second-hand sales and the exchange of goods and services.
  2. Repair : instead of throwing and buying again, arrange for it to work for a longer time, which also means taking care of what we have and fighting against planned obsolescence. It is not to use and throw away, but to use, repair and reuse.
  3. Recycle: it is the best known process and the one that best exemplifies what the circular economy is, since it converts waste into a resource, reducing pollution.
  4. Reject : say no to objects or services that go against the environment.
  5. Redesign: it is the eco-design , that in all phases of production of a product, from the choice of materials to the final presentation, think about the protection of the environment.
  6. Reduce : it is to consume in a conscious way, buy only what is really needed and will be used, not accumulate, think about being more than having.
  7. Recover : before buying something new, think about whether we can recover what we already have to give it a new use.

The implementation of a circular economy proposes an environmental sustainability system based primarily on the decrease in the use of resources , the reduction in waste production and the limitation of energy consumption.

What is the circular economy for?

Those little gestures translate into big numbers. According to a United Nations report, with the circular economy model, waste from some industrial sectors and a similar percentage of their greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by up to 99% . The UN suggests evolving from the development model based on “growing now, cleaning later”, to that of the circular economy, which dreams of “zero waste” in the year 2050.

The report makes it very clear that the world has at its disposal technology, science and financial resources to move towards sustainable development .

The impact of the circular economy on the environment

The average temperature of the planet’s surface has risen approximately 1 degree Celsius since the end of the 19th century , as a consequence of the increase in carbon dioxide and other emissions into the atmosphere.

The world will generate 53.9 million tons of electronic waste in 2025 if the current progression continues, which makes this type of materials grow 3% every year, according to a report by the Bureau of International Recycling.

In 1950, with a population of 2.5 billion inhabitants, the world produced 1.5 million tons of plastic. In 2016, with a population of more than 7,000 million people, 300 million tons were produced. If so, in 2050 there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans of planet Earth.

But there are still data that give us hope. A stainless steel object has 60% recycling in its composition. Used tires generate the same energy as oil (with a considerable lower impact on the environment) and 25% more than coal. CO2 emissions would be reduced by 58% with iron scrap. 40% of the world’s demand for copper is satisfied with recycling.

Recycling paper saves 65% of the energy needed to create a new one . Half of the textile that is collected is reused, and the other half is recycled. Recycling a plastic bottle achieves energy capable of keeping a 60-watt light bulb on for 6 hours.

Close the circle: what are the most important future initiatives

In December 2015, the European-Commission designed its Plan for the Circular Economy under the slogan “Close the Circle”. The objective is to give new impetus to employment, growth and investment, and develop a low carbon and waste economy , efficient in the use of resources and more competitive.

This is achieved through an intervention in all parts of the value chain and the integration of the principles of the circular economy in the production and consumption of plastic, water management, food systems and the management of specific waste streams. .

In March 2019, the European Commission published a progress report on the implementation of the Action Plan for the circular economy, detailing the main advances.

Stresses the EU Strategy for plastic in a circular economy that proposes that by 2030 all plastic containers marketed in the EU market be reusable or recyclable . With the aim of boosting the recycled plastics market, the European Commission has launched a voluntary engagement campaign , and has launched the Circular Alliance on Plastics .

And in April 2019, the Plenary of the European Parliament approved the legislative package on Circular Economy (Waste Package) that modifies the Directives of landfills, waste, packaging and electrical and electronic equipment, with which it is intended to reach 65% of recycling in the year 2035.

The circular economy, profitable for the economy

There is already some impact data that shows that the transition to a circular economy model is profitable for the economy , for the planet and for people. In 2016, the sectors most involved with the circular economy employed more than four million workers in Europe , more than 6% above 2012.

The emergence of new business models linked to the circular economy, such as repair, reuse or recycling, have generated an added value of 147,000 million euros , with an investment of 17,500 million euros. In addition, the demand for recycled materials already accounts for 12% of the total in the European Union, when in the world it is barely 9%.

Because, as the European Union report ” Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030″insists, the circular economy is a key axis to ensure a continent , and by extension, a more competitive, more inclusive and, of course, more sustainable world.