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The circular economy

Posted by Flux on 

2 August 2017

What’s trending now

Nations and businesses are rejecting throw-away consumer culture in favour of a circular economy.

Why it’s important

Consumer culture as we know it involves a significant amount of people making, selling, and buying products that ultimately end up in a landfill, or, even worse, floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is now approximated to cover an area of over 1 million square kilometers.

Precious, finite, natural resources that cost large amounts of human and economic capital to extract from the earth are thrown away after a single use. This is unsustainable.

Essentially, the move towards a circular economy involves finding a way to ensure the things we buy and sell can be reincarnated over and over again. This goes far beyond mere recycling. The aim of the circular economy is to ultimately eliminate all waste and pollution to create an entirely sustainable way of living.

The butterfly effect

The emergence of a global circular economy will not only reduce pollution and protect our fragile natural environment for future generations, it will also have significant economic benefits.

Firstly, more aggressive international-scale recycling and repurposing programmes stand to create much needed jobs.

Secondly, the adoption of a circular economy will result in significant cost savings for adopting nations. The European Commission estimates its proposed Circular Economy Package, which aims to reduce or eliminate wastage throughout every aspect of their member-nation’s production-consumption cycle, can save European countries 600 billion Euros a year; thanks in large to reduced energy and waste-processing costs.

The pioneers

The zero waste girl, Lauren Singer, has produced a single jam-jar’s worth of rubbish over the last four years.

The global hot-spots

Switzerland has got so good at recycling it has essentially run out of rubbish (less than 1% of household waste ends up in a landfill) and is now accepting trash imports from other countries.

Why? The Swiss have invested in specialised waste-management plants to burn their trash, in an environmentally safe manner, and convert the resulting heat into energy which is then pushed back into the electrical grid and used to heat homes. In fact, 40% of Swiss households get their heating from garbage incinerators.

Circular economic thinking just makes good business sense. Switzerland is paid around 100 million Euros a year to process trash from its neighbouring countries – and that excludes free energy it enjoys as a by-product of this service.

There are zero-waste towns and cities popping up all over the world:

San Francisco has plans in place to become a zero-waste city by 2020.


Kamikatsu, Japan has some of the most rigorous recycling and composting laws in the world. The town as a Zero Waste Academy and a kuru-kuru shop where residents can bring in used and un-recyclable items and take things home for free.

Closer to home, here in South Africa, Thato Kgatlhanye, 21, and Rea Ngwane, 22, are two young, female entrepreneurs who have gained international fame for their Repurpose School Bags initiative. The pair developed a low-cost school bag, made with recycled materials and equipped with solar panels that charge a light during the day to assist learners to study at night

Furthermore, the first waste-to-energy plan in Africa has just opened in Athlone, Cape Town. Dubbed, “Waste Mart”, the plant is set to convert 10% of Cape Town’s solid waste into usable energy and create 80 jobs.

By : Bronwyn Williams

About Bronwyn

Image credit: Tyler Lastovich 

Video credit: Trash is for Tossers AND Sweden at South Africa AND Stories AND Stories

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