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What is the Circular Economy?

According to NASA, 2022 tied with 2015 as the fifth warmest year ever recorded. Global surface temperatures were 0.89 degrees Celsius above the average baseline period (1951-1980), continuing Earth’s warming trend driven by human activity. The consequences of this warming are already being felt, and there is a 66% chance that between now and 2027 that we will breach the critical 1.5°C threshold. Surpassing this threshold means intensified natural disasters, deadlier heat waves, and higher sea levels, as reported by the BBC. It's Mother Nature's way of saying, "Hey, humans, we need to talk!"


One major culprit driving the climate crisis is modern consumer and throwaway culture. Since the signing of the Paris Agreement (Circle Economy) in 2015, the world has consumed over half a trillion tonnes of virgin materials. To put that in perspective, given that 1 second is equal to 1 second, then:

  • 1 million seconds would be approximately 12 days, which is like a vacation

  • 1 billion seconds would be around 30 years, similar to a career

  • Half a trillion seconds would stretch for about 15,000 years, which is longer than human civilization


Every year, as alarming statistics about the state of our planet keep pouring in, it's tempting to bury our heads in the sand and hope it all magically gets better. But amidst this flood of frightening numbers and mounting worries about our future, there's a growing realization that we need transformative solutions to tackle climate change and promote sustainable development. We need solutions that go beyond mere quick fixes. And in this context, the circular economy has emerged as a promising paradigm, offering us a clear path forward.


The Circular Economy Explained


The circular economy revolutionizes our approach to resource management by embracing three fundamental design principles:


  1. Eliminating waste and pollution

  2. Circulating products and materials

  3. Regenerating natural systems


Unlike our traditional linear model of take-make-waste, the circular economy prioritizes waste reduction from the inception of products, marking a paradigm shift in how we consume and produce.


The butterfly diagram below developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation visualizes the continuous flow of materials in a circular economy, consisting of the biological cycle (renewable and biodegradable materials) and the technical cycle (non-renewable and non-biodegradable materials). The three principles are captured in this diagram as they apply to the two cycles, which we’ll delve into below.


In the biological cycle, the focus is on regenerative practices in agriculture. This involves embracing holistic approaches such as regenerative agriculture, agroforestry, conservation agriculture, and agroecology. These practices, which include techniques like no-till farming, cover cropping, and rotational grazing, aim to restore soil health, enhance biodiversity, safeguard water sources, and foster overall climate resilience.

Throughout the agricultural process, from post-harvest to consumption, organic waste plays a crucial role in replenishing the soil. Organic waste is the secret sauce for replenishing our soil, recycling nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus through composting and anaerobic digestion. Composting and anaerobic digestion not only aid in nutrient recycling but can also be used for biogas generation, a renewable energy source that can serve as an alternative to natural gas.


Furthermore, biological materials resulting from harvest and consumption otherwise considered as ‘waste’ can be utilized as feedstock for biorefineries. Biorefineries, as defined by the International Energy Agency (IEA), are facilities that process biomass into a wide range of marketable bio-based products and energy. These biorefineries contribute to the production of value-added chemical products, offering a sustainable alternative to traditional fossil fuel-based manufacturing processes.


In the circular bioeconomy, products and materials are given a longer life by finding new uses for them. Instead of throwing them away when they're no longer needed, we repurpose them and turn them into something new. This way, we can keep using them for as long as possible. Eventually, when they can no longer be used, they go back to nature by being returned to the soil.

On the other hand, the technical cycle focuses on materials that are finite and highly processed. In this cycle, the goal is to keep materials in use for as long as possible as the upgraded products can’t be returned directly to nature. In this cycle, the goal is to keep materials in use for as long as possible. The technical cycle consists of smaller inner loops surrounded by larger outer loops, and it prioritizes sharing, maintaining, and reusing products to retain their value. Remanufacturing and recycling are more resource-intensive processes employed when products cannot continue circulating in their current state. Waste reduction is achieved in the technical cycle by circulating these materials over and over. Both businesses and consumers save by utilizing existing products and materials.


  1. Sharing is an essential aspect of the technical cycle, and can drastically increase the utilization of products. For example, community tool libraries enable people to access higher quality tools without the need for individual ownership. Popular car-sharing and space-sharing platforms like Evo and Airbnb further facilitate resource optimization.

  2. Maintenance is another crucial step in maximizing product value. By providing proper upkeep and care, products can remain in optimal condition, avoiding failure or deterioration.

  3. Reusing products in their original form and purpose is another inner loop of the cycle. ShareWares is one of many reuse models emerging across various industries. Reusable packaging helps tackle waste issues, while resale platforms offer an alternative to buying new clothes, reducing the demand for new production.

  4. Redistribution involves diverting products from their intended market to other customers, preventing them from becoming waste.

  5. Refurbishing focuses on restoring products to good working order, whether through repair, component replacement, or cosmetic improvements.

  6. Remanufacturing and recycling are more intensive processes used when products cannot continue circulating in their current state. Remanufacturing is when products or components are re-engineered and brought back to as-new condition, often with warranties comparable to newly manufactured items. Recycling - breaking down products back into the raw material to be manufactured into new products - is the outermost loop of the technical cycle and should be a last resort.


TL;DR // ELI5

​​The circular economy is like a superhero for our resources. It has three main principles: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate natural systems. Instead of our old way of take, make, and waste, we shift to take, make, and reuse. It's like giving things a second, third, or even fourth chance at life. We say no to waste and yes to making the most of what we've got. Pretty cool, huh? We have the biological cycle, where we focus on regenerative practices in agriculture. It's all about nurturing the soil, protecting water sources, and promoting biodiversity. Even the "waste" from crops and food can be turned into compost or energy. And did you know that we can use organic waste to create biogas, a renewable energy source? Talk about killing two birds with one stone! On the other hand, we have the technical cycle. Here, we keep materials in use for as long as possible. We share, maintain, and reuse products instead of constantly buying new ones. Just think about car-sharing or tool libraries. And when products reach the end of their useful life, we find ways to refurbish or remanufacture them. Recycling is the last resort, but we try to avoid it as much as possible.


What are the Ramifications of a Circular Economy?


Climate Change Mitigation


The adoption of the circular economy holds significant ramifications for climate change mitigation. Anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are human-caused emissions that contribute to the warming of our planet. These emissions are primarily linked to resource use and production, accounting for approximately 70% of the total GHG emissions globally (Global Circularity Gap report) . By transitioning to a circular economy, we have the potential to reduce global material extraction and use by one-third. This reduction in resource consumption directly translates into lower emissions, which plays a crucial role in mitigating climate change. By consciously extending the lifespan of our products through sharing, reusing, and refurbishing, we can individually contribute to lowering our carbon footprints. Additionally, improving resource efficiency in manufacturing and recycling processes further minimizes emissions associated with extraction and disposal.


However, achieving a circular economy requires more than just individual action - it demands purposeful collaboration between the public and private sectors. While circular businesses play a crucial role in delivering material savings and promoting sustainable practices, they must be supported by effective policies and targets. It's like a dance, where everyone needs to be in sync to make it work. A just transition to a circular economy involves addressing potential disruptions that may arise as industries shift from linear to circular models.


Successfully navigating this transition requires a long-term perspective and prioritizing collective interests over short-term gains. By embracing the principles of a circular economy and fostering collaboration between stakeholders, we can maximize the potential for mitigating climate change and create a sustainable and resilient future for generations to come.




ShareWares as a Circular Solution

ShareWares as a company is proudly predicated upon circularity principles.

Our vision is aligned with that of the Metro Vancouver 2040 Vision: supporting a sustainable economy, ensuring that the vital ecosystems that sustain us are healthy and resilient, and preparing for the impacts of climate change.


We're all about closing the loop and being part of the inner loops of the technical cycle. We provide Vancouver businesses and events with single-use alternatives by supplying, collecting, and sanitizing reusable cups and containers. By offering these sustainable options, we're helping to reduce waste and promote a circular economy. So, next time you see our reusable cups and containers in action, know that you're part of the solution and keeping things in the loop. Cheers to a more sustainable future!


Our clean tech platform is scalable and allows for easy adoption of our borrow-use-reuse model to help consumers, local businesses and events engage in circular practices. Since our launch in 2021, we have helped save more than 100,000 products from going into traditional waste streams.


Our coffee cups are sourced from a certified BCorp and manufactured in the USA. Furthermore, the cups are made from 100% recycled polypropylene (also known as #5), a durable plastic that is BPA and phthalate-free. How cool is that?


(if we do say so ourselves)


Once the cups are no longer functional or suitable for reuse, they will be melted down and remade into reusable cups.


Conclusion


At ShareWares, we understand the urgency of the challenges we face today, and we firmly believe that the circular economy offers a roadmap to tackle them head-on. We're proud to be part of the solution, actively working towards a future where resources are used efficiently, waste is minimized, and sustainable practices become the norm. By embracing the principles of the circular economy, we can create a world that is more sustainable, resilient, and in harmony with nature. Join us on this journey, and together, we can make a positive impact and shape a better future for generations to come.


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