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The Essence of a Circular Economy

The United Nations has called the years ahead, from 2020 – 2030, the Decade of Action. Simply put, these crucial years are the make-or-break it years in the fight against climate change.

One idea that has been fast gaining momentum and adoption among both thinkers and doers is that of a circular economy. As the phrase suggests, it is an approach that shifts away from a linear economic structure to one that is more like a circular feedback loop.

The current economy thrives on the one-way street, make-use-throw model, leading to

huge landfills stacked with plastics, textiles and electronic waste, with no end in sight.

What if there was a better model that could reduce waste to zero?

What is a circular economy?

A circular economy aims to do just that. In essence, a circular economy creates a closed circuit where every part of a product that is produced is either reused or recycled back into a next production cycle.

By-products are an interesting example of a circular economy in action. For example, The Balbo Group, an organic sugarcane farm, produces 100% of the energy it needs through thermoelectric power using sugarcane residue called bagasse.

Closer to home, Singapore’s water loop is a good example for a circular economy, where every drop of used water is treated, sanitised and recycled to be used again.

Our Upcircle creators are also shining examples - Project Become encourages consumers to return cookie jars back to bakers for discounts, while Package Pals collects old packaging such as polymailers and redistributes them back to businesses to be reused.

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Tools of the circular economy

There are different components in realising a circular economy and according to this PwC report, we have various tools at our disposal including:

1. Sustainable design

Baking sustainability during a product’s design stage using considerations such as durability, modular usage or use of sustainable materials.

2. Sharing

Companies such as Uber, Airbnb are part of the sharing economy that encourages consumers to rent and share instead of buying.

3. Maintenance, repair

Extending the life of products through maintenance and repair. Check out Singapore’s own Repair Kopitiam!

4. Remanufacturing

Manufacturers can recondition and reassemble existing products to extend life cycles.

5. Recycling

More than separate waste collection, recycling is also about upcycling or downcycling products into new and novel uses.

6. Reusing

Second-hand shops for clothes, cars and furniture come into the picture here, where pre-loved goods are given a second lease of life.

Closing the loop

In terms of consumer mindset, it is the motivation to look in our surroundings first to reuse, recycle, borrow or repair instead of shopping for something new. If we have to purchase something new, we should always think about the product’s lifecycle – can it be recycled or does its components eventually end up in the landfill? Does the product use raw, virgin material in its production? How much waste does it generate in production?

These are difficult questions to tackle as a casual consumer, but also necessary if we are to make a difference with our dollars.

As the race heats up (literally) towards us finding sustainable solutions that can reduce our environmental impact, greater innovations are occurring under our noses.

Fabric from bubble wrap? Bicycle from coffee capsules? Or vases from PET bottles? It is possible to transform discarded waste into reusable, like-new materials and it is also possible to achieve a zero-waste future, today.

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