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When I tell people that I write about circular economy products I almost always get a blank stare followed by, “what’s a circular economy” or “I’ve never heard the words circular and economy together.” Luckily one of my favorite things to do is explain what a circular economy is, why we need one and what we can all do to help accelerate it. I also included a few circular economy examples and my favorite circular economy products.
What is a circular economy?
In a circular economy, products and materials stay inside a constant loop of reuse and regeneration instead of becoming waste and pollution.
Waste is a design flaw – products should be designed for minimal waste, transportation and packaging. Remember planned obsolescence from marketing 101? Yeah, this is the opposite of planned obsolescence.
Products and materials should stay in use – materials and products should be designed to stay inside our economy through re-use, recycling, and remanufacturing. Keep reading for a few examples.
Materials should regenerate nature – Nature has the ability to heal itself under the right circumstances. Instead of using materials that pollute nature, materials that regenerate nature should be used instead. Regenerative farming is one example.
Circular versus linear economy
Today we have a linear economy. Materials are taken from nature, products are used and then thrown away. Few materials are recycled and reused. Most turn into garbage.
In a circular economy, materials stay inside the economy. That's why it's so important that products can be reused, recycled, rented, refurbished and come from regenerative sources. That's a lot of R's, I know.
We need a circular economy because we are using more natural resources than the planet can regenerate. This is contributing to environmental problems like climate change and plastic pollution. Also, waste and trash are expensive externalities we pay for in taxes and pollution. Nobody likes expensive externalities! Now try saying that three times in a row.
Companies accelerating the circular economy
A few companies that built circularity into the core of their companies are carpet maker Interface and clothing company Everlane.
Interface – Interface makes carpet tiles and flooring made to be easily refurbished and recycled. Their carpets are designed with the planet in mind, and they are leaders in the movement to make carbon-negative products. You can't get much better than carbon-negative.
Everlane – The Everlane Renew program recycles plastic into jackets and clothing, so no new plastic is used in their collections!
Everlane also sells a line called ReCashmere, which is recycled cashmere. If you love cashmere as much as I do I know you're doing a happy dance right about now. When I ordered my first Everlane ReNew Cashmere sweater I was giddy with joy. Not only is it way cheaper than a new cashmere sweater, but it is also upcycled. So perfect.
Circular economy examples
A few of my favorite circular economy examples are Rent the Runway and regenerative agriculture.
Rent the Runway – Why buy a dress you'll wear one time when you can rent it? Rent the Runway lets you rent designer clothes and dresses that you can wear once or until you're tired of it. Then return it to be used by someone new. Renting products rather than buying them is a circular example, and also a great way to save money.
Regenerative agriculture – Regenerative materials originate in nature and improve the environment it came from. In today's linear economy, many materials come from factory farms that degrade nature by using pesticides and unsustainable practices. Regenerative farming is a great example of how we can restore our environment rather than destroy it.
The Rodale Institute is currently working on a pilot program to create Regenerative Organic Certified products. These products should start to roll out soon. I'll let you know when they do if you sign up for the newsletter.
Read about more Circular Economy Products you can buy today in the United States!
Circular economy products
Two of my own favorite circular economy products are Grove cleaning pouches and the SodaStream. I've written about these before, so you can just zone me out now if you've read this before. But if this is your first time here, I think you'll love Grove cleaning pouches and the SodaStream.
Grove cleaning pouches* – In a circular economy, products are designed to reduce waste. Grove cleaning pouches do just that. Buy a 1-ounce pouch and add it to 16 ounces of water in an empty spray bottle. That's it. No more giant plastic spray bottles to recycle and then buy again and again. These little pouches pack a powerful cleaning punch using a whole lot less plastic.
SodaStream* – If you love sparkling water as much as I do, you will love the SodaStream. You can use your own bubble water using filtered water from your sink or refrigerator. Add a healthy syrup such as elderberry syrup and enjoy. Check out “Why SodaStream is Better For Your Health and The Planet” for a few of my favorite low-calorie bubble water recipes.
Read about more Circular Economy Examples.
Where does energy come from in a circular economy?
Renewable energy of course! But it doesn’t have to come from just solar and wind. Waste to energy is another option and innovation is happening quickly in all things clean energy. This is a whole other topic that I’ll cover in future posts, so sign up for the newsletter to stay in the loop!
Moving towards a circular economy
Good metrics and certifications will probably be necessary to keep circular economy products and services from becoming the next vaguely sustainable thing. But we’re a long way from those worries because we’re still so far from a circular economy.
The concept is still relatively new, especially in the United States. The majority of consumer products and brands aimed at keeping materials in the loop are still in Europe. There, it’s more widely accepted as necessary, but still not mainstream. In the United States, circularity is still a new concept. That's why it's so important to explain what it means to move toward a circular economy. I hope you'll help me share this information.
The Ellen Macarthur Foundation
The Ellen Macarthur Foundation was created to accelerate the transition to the circular economy. The foundation works with large and small companies to collaborate on ideas that keep materials in use and also help businesses thrive. If you want to learn more about what a circular economy can look like, the Ellen Macarthur Foundation has an excellent learning hub.