Circular Economy: definition and examples

Circular Economy: definition and examples

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Circular Economy: definition and examples - The economic growth model that has characterized the last 150 years of history is defined as "linear economy", An industrial, market economy based on the extraction of always new raw materials, on mass consumption and on the production of waste once the end of the product's life has been reached. One could say a cradle-to-coffin economy for the masses.

This flow of extraction and disposal of matter has caused harmful environmental effects such as the contamination of the seas and the earth, the drama of waste, the emissions of greenhouse gases responsible for climate change, bloody wars for the control of raw materials, strong social inequality.

To elaborate an alternative development model to the linear economy, illustrious thinkers such as the architect Walter Stahel, the physicist Amory Lovins, the designers McDonough and Braungart, the green economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, have devised alternative ways to stop the waste of matter, pollution from fossil sources, promoting efficient production, recycling, eco-design, energy and renewable sources.

The result of all these years of research and experimentation for a more sustainable world has merged into the concept of circular economy, that is an economy model that reduces and eliminates waste, differentiates the sources of material supply and makes people live longer, maximizing the use value of consumer products.

Circular Economy: definition

The classic definition of circular economy is that of "an economy designed to be able to regenerate itself. In a circular economy, the flows of materials are of two types: the biological ones, capable of being reintegrated into the biosphere, and the technical ones, destined to be revalued without entering the biosphere ". A definition that comes from the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, one of the most active companies in promoting this development model, financed by the sailor Ellen MacArthur and supported by giants of the industrial world such as Google, H&M, Banca Intesa and the World Economic Forum.

Three principles to define the circular economy

To better understand how thecircular economy we must first explain what are the three pillars on which it is founded.

1) The first foundation is to rediscover the deposits of discarded matter as a source of matter, limiting the processing as much as possible. It is therefore a question of taking everything we throw away, both in the private sector and in the industrial world, and reintroducing it into production cycles. As in nature, where nothing is wasted and every waste becomes a nourishing element of another organism, the same must happen in production, from agriculture to industry through recycling, reuse, management of production outputs, regeneration. All fundamental practices for transforming waste into "secondary raw material".

The place of excellence for the "extraction" of this secondary raw material are the cities that become new (urban) deposits where to draw to produce new material goods. When you look at the recycling bins, in thecircular economy, you no longer have to think about the concept of "waste" but about a system of extraction of matter of which you are the unconscious miners.

Let's see some examples. Beyond the classic recycling of plastic, paper and glass, today there are "recyclers" waste recovery centers that host artisans and artists who adapt and reuse discarded materials to make new objects and sell them. In Italy the re-use center of Capannori and the C.R.E.A., the Reuse and Environmental Education Center of Pergine Valsugana, in Trentino.

Ecopneus is one of the most modern efficient waste collection consortia, specifically End of life tires. From the tires that are no longer usable they are able to obtain acoustic insulation, granulate for flooring for sports and play fields, building material and soon, thanks to the revulcanization also new tires.

In the most virtuous cases of recycling we must speak of "upcycle", Or when the waste takes on a value as a new material higher than that of the product in the previous life. The examples of upcycle in the circular economy they are not missing. Aquafil, nylon yarn manufacturers, have designed Econyl, a system for enhance the waste nylon. Econyl allows you to use post-industrial or post-consumer polyamide 6 or Nylon 6 to make new Nylon 6, improving its quality.

The key to success is the Reclaiming program, a tool to foster a reverse supply chain and ensure reliable material inputs. On the one hand, the filament comes from disassembled carpets. On the other hand, the company of Arco (TN), together with Interface of Atlanta, USA, has carried out a project to obtain nylon from old fishing nets, establishing a de facto reverse supply chain that takes a product of mediocre quality, such as nets for used the train, and transforms it into synthetic yarn for the new collection of high-style carpets sold by the American Interface.

Other example of circular economy virtuoso: a Rovereto start-up, theEco-Systems, settled inside Progetto Manifattura, the hub of the green and circular economy, uses old plastic bottle caps as a carrier in water purification plants, or as "houses" for bacteria that eat dirt in purification plants.

From the organic point of view the agricultural / food waste is a real gold mine, all to be exploited. Vegea srl today it produces a vegetable leather, Wineleather, made entirely from exhausted marc; in California, the start-up Oryzatech, is experimenting with building blocks made from the scraps of rice production; NU-OVUM, make one bio-plastic which uses the thousands of tons of eggshell waste that are produced in Italy every year. But there are hundreds of examples.

2) The second principle is linked to the end of waste from using the product (unused value), even before being discarded. Warehouses full of machinery waiting to be decommissioned, boxes in the cellar full of unused clothes with little sentimental value, items bought and used once a year. An unnecessary depreciation of assets whose value is not made to bear fruit.

Look around you with new eyes and you will see how much matter lies inert, wasted, before being finally thrown away, after not been used. Maybe leave out the soft toy, abandoned, in the closet of childhood memories. The rest is just a waste of matter. The solution? Share with other consumers and create business processes where instead of owning an object you use it as a service (in English it is called Product-as-a-service).

Examples of circular economy, product as service are in front of everyone. A classic example used in literature is that of car-sharing. An owned car is used for about 4% of its life-time. Cars and scooters shared by services such as Enjoy, ZigZag, Car2Go, SharenGo, on the other hand, are used for over 45% of their life time. Companies like Toyota offer systems short term leasing, with the possibility of returning or purchasing the vehicle. Fablab like the Italian Witlab or shop of tool-sharing (tool sharing) such as from Tuscany share tech equipment and hardware, from 3D and laser printers to chainsaws, drills or even bulldozers. It is paid according to consumption and in addition there are additional assistance and design services. Michelin offers tires in the form of a “product-as-a-service”. Thanks to Michelin Solution it is possible to lease tires, with a performance agreement. Since 2011, Michelin Fleet Solutions has contracted over 300,000 vehicles in over 20 European countries. By not releasing the product, and therefore maintaining full control over its tires, Michelin can withdraw them at any time when they are about to critically wear, thus extending its technical validity through retreading or regrooving for resale.

3) The third principle is to stop the premature death of matter. Although recycling and reuse are fundamental strategies for the recovery of matter, we often condemn perfectly healthy matter to death - that is, to disposal. Often only part of an object breaks or fails, while the remaining components remain perfectly functional. Or it is fashion that declares a dress or a design object dead. Repair, upgrade, review the practices of planned obsolescence, being out of fashion, are desirable strategies to stop this massacre of matter.

Fairphone for example it is the first phone that was it designed to ensure longevity and repairability of the product to maximize product life and allow buyers to have total control over modifications, upgrades and repairs. Instead of changing mobile phones when you want a better performing camera or processor, you can only change one piece. It is easy to repair and is designed to be easily disassembled at the end, it tacks.

Patagonia, the well-known manufacturer of sportswear, has launched a project called Worn Wear that promotes the "repair is beautiful" philosophy around the world, discarding the adage "buying it new costs less. In stores and at dedicated events you can receive free repair assistance. The simple gesture of making the garments we wear last longer, taking care of them and repairing them when necessary, allows us not to have to buy new ones, thus avoiding the generation of CO² emissions, the production of scraps and waste, and the consumption of water associated with the production cycles of the textile sector.

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by Emanuele Bompan

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