Jessica Long, Earthshot Prize Expert Advisor; Chief Strategy Officer of Closed Loop Partners, EarthShotPrize.org, August 22, 2023
I’ve been passionate about the circular economy for over a decade, and I believe it has the potential to impact all five earthshots, especially “build a waste-free world.”
Today, the circular economy has reached a tipping point, with multiple factors bringing ‘zero waste’ to the top of sustainability priorities. Before we dig into the opportunity, let’s first understand what a circular economy is and how it differs from our current way of producing and consuming “stuff.”
Right now, our so-called “linear” economy is based on a ‘take-make-waste’ model: we TAKE natural resources to MAKE products and when we’re done using them, often just once, we dispose of them as WASTE. Allowing valuable products and materials to simply be disposed of rather than reused is inherently wasteful.
In contrast, a circular economy aims to remove the concept of waste altogether. By reducing the number of materials used, keeping those we use in circulation for as long as possible through repair, reuse or recycling, steering away from toxic or non-recyclable materials, and allowing nature to regenerate, we can move toward a ‘take-make-take-make-take-make’ model.
So why should we be excited about the circular economy?
Read on for my top three reasons 👇
1. The Circular Economy Removes the Burden of Waste
Too often today, “waste” is created by prematurely throwing away products that have a lot more use in them. Often these materials are disposed of in the environment or burned, or we pay to dump them in landfills, resulting in harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly half of global waste (44%) is food and organics, 17% is paper and 12% is plastic – all materials that could be reused in some way.
Alongside material reduction and reuse, one of the most economically attractive ways to keep materials in circulation is through robust recycling. Ideally, these materials are collected, sorted and re-manufactured as locally as possible.
One great example is how New York City recycles paper. Used paper products (including pizza boxes!) are collected by the Department of Sanitation, sorted at a Closed Loop Partners Circular Services facility in Brooklyn, and transformed back into paper products by Pratt Industries. This is a fully circular system in one city, giving valuable materials another life and keeping them out of landfills!
Another example is the clothes we wear – currently less than 1% is recycled at end-of-use. However, companies like By Rotation and For Days aim to keep our used clothing in circulation through innovative peer-to-peer models and take-back programs.