Achieving sustainability through the circular economy

Achieving sustainability through the circular economy

November 23, 2017

Achieving sustainability through the circular economy

According to many experts, moving away from the current linear economic system towards a circular economy is the only way of achieving the ultimate objective of a truly sustainable society and production systems. 

We cannot build our future on a ‘take-make-dispose’ model. Many natural resources are finite, we must find an environmentally and economically sustainable way of using them”. This is the message of the fact sheet which the European Commission published on its website in December 2015 for the presentation of a circular economy action plan. "The creation of a circular economy in Europe is a fundamental priority for this Commission”, declared Vice-President Frans Timmermans.

Linear vs circular

So, what exactly is the circular economy and how is it different from the linear system which currently governs the markets? According to experts, in the linear economy, the life cycle of each product can be traced by a line made up of four main parts: extraction, production, consumption and disposal. In other words, once the product has been used it becomes ‘waste’ and is thrown away, forcing the system to start again from the beginning. It is clear to see why this system of production and consumption is far from achieving the environmental and economic sustainability which is a key part of many international strategies, including the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. However, in a circular economy model, products remain in the loop for as long as possible and generally materials are classified into two main categories: organic materials, which can be integrated back into the biosphere, and technological materials which can be recycled and take on a new life after being used for the first time. This model aims to reduce the environmental impact of production activities and generate new strategies of sustainable development

From production to recycling

Introducing a new economic model means intervening at every level of a product’s life cycle: from collecting raw materials to disposing of or recycling waste. Consequently, it is important to put regulations in place to ensure that each of these stages complies with the principles of sustainability. At the production stage, for instance, it is essential to establish the types of substance which can be used for growing crops or raising livestock so that they do not have an excessive environmental impact. When products are processed, we need to develop innovative packaging, perhaps using eco-compatible material and it is important to raise awareness among consumers so that they can buy and use products sustainably. Transforming waste into resources is one of the cornerstones of the circular economy. Rather than a product being thrown away after it has been used, it can start a new life in another form. 


This model also includes actions to combat food waste: the food which is thrown away could offer a significant source of nutrition and energy providing that clear rules are defined to guarantee that it is reused in a safe and environmentally-friendly way. 

Benefits for all

Focusing on the circular economy offers benefits for the environment, the economy and individuals. A more careful management of raw materials and production processes, combined with the fight against food waste is good for the environment, reducing some of the factors contributing to climate change such as greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, a cleaner environment means a healthier and safer life for people, who could also save money by using more sustainable sources of energy. Changing the economic system would also mean creating new employment opportunities to support and stimulate new production and consumption processes.


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