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What nature can teach us about a circular economy

A circular economy is an economic system that aims to eliminate waste and continuously use the resources already in existence. In a circular economy, resources are used for as long as possible, to get the maximum value from them – through reuse and recycling of waste.

The Earth is an almost perfect example of how circular systems can use waste to create new things. For billions of years, our planet has sustained life and reused its own resources. For example, the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or the rain cycle, are two important circular systems that create equilibrium for all forms of life. 

We can learn a lot from nature about circular economies and recycling. Most plants and animals become nutrients for other forms of life when their life cycle ends. In nature, life’s building blocks are endlessly recycled. Only a small amount of manmade waste can become life-sustaining nutrients. Huge amounts of waste end up in landfills. 

Some of this waste gets recycled, a small percentage is composted and what remains is burned. The circular waste economy is an effective way to reduce volumes of waste, as well as retaining its value. Globally, the idea of a circular economy is beginning to gain traction.

A linear economy is unsustainable, a circular economy is sustainable

At present, the linear resource flow on which society operates sees raw materials being used to make products, which are then later discarded. Usually, this waste is not returned to the raw material stream, as new products are not produced from used materials. With the only exception being the recycling industry, the linear resource flow is by far the most common process for most other industries.

As raw materials are finite, the linear economy (take, make, use, dispose) is unsustainable. This is an extremely wasteful model that holds many negative consequences for our planet and its fragile ecosystem. Earth is already depleted of minerals, metals, fossil fuels and wood. It is for this reason that numerous countries are giving recycling and experimenting with waste as a resource serious consideration.

In order to maintain the balance between demand and supply in nature, things need to coexist in equilibrium. Nature has given us the perfect template of a circular economy. Humans can take heed of the fact that natural habitats use only the resources that they need to sustain life. Humans should reduce their consumption to use only what they need.

Resources should be circulated

Our economies should follow Nature’s lead and only use what it can recover or regenerate, so keeping precious resources circulating while reducing waste. People are finding very inventive ways of using waste to generate electricity, build homes and create new products.

Today, certain products are designed to keep circulating in the economy. Products are made from sustainable materials and manufacturers are finding uses for their products once they are discarded. The way of nature can work for society too – production, consumption and recovery must become systems that rely on one another, in order to be successful. However, a circular economy is only effective if it makes money. Fortunately, with innovative products and new business models being implemented, this is starting to happen. 

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Written by Riana Wiechers

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