What is a Circular Economy?

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As the world population continues to grow, the world’s creation of waste (especially plastics) follows suit. As is common knowledge, plastics don’t decompose very quickly; some may even take tens of thousands of years. This poses a problem in terms of sheer volume: there is simply too much plastic and other waste products to deal with. Unfortunately, most plastics don’t make it to landfills or recycling plants and end up in the ocean or natural environment instead. In the Pacific, there are islands of floating plastics so large they can be clearly seen from space.

Landfills are overflowing and the ocean is being severely affected. Many proposed solutions revolve around reducing consumption in general – which is absolutely a necessity, but it is something that is difficult to incentivize and even more difficult to legislate.  Lowering consumption is something that will likely happen overtime, but it probably isn’t going to happen fast enough to mitigate environmental damage in the meantime. So how do we manage all of this waste? One school of thought is to focus on the economic viability of reusing material. Rather than synthesizing new plastics or extracting new metals, manufacturers use recycled materials as their primary inputs. The idea is to lower waste overtime due to a widespread systematic recycling of materials that goes far beyond a given city’s recycling program. This is called a “Circular Economy” due to the circular flow of materials. The intent is to create a strong incentive to make change happen faster by making reuse economically attractive.

The concept of Economies of Scale refers to the lower costs of manufacturing the larger the scale of the operation. This same principle drives Circular Economics – that if reuse and re-fabrication happen on a wide enough scale, it becomes very economical. It makes intuitive sense that turning valueless garbage back into saleable products could be cheaper than extracting raw materials; the problem is that there is a lack of infrastructure to make the reuse economical. This is changing rapidly and many companies are taking advantage of the inexpensive material that comes from making use of waste.

If you or your business are interested in taking advantage of circular economics, or are looking to learn more take a look at Ontario Waste Management Association’s (OWMA) website or check out #circulareconomy on Twitter. If you are looking to improve your businesses waste management, recycling, or ensure compliance with Ontario’s regulations give us a call or check out our website here.