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Imagine a system where nothing is wasted. Everything is reused, repaired or recycled. This is known as the circular economy or circle economy. It’s a radical departure from the linear ‘take-make-waste’ model. As leading facilitators of the circular economy, we are passionate about this and believe that adopting this system is crucial for the future of our planet.

As you read on, you’ll find that our article breaks down the mechanics, merits, and challenges of the circular economy, providing clear, actionable insights without the fluff. By the end, you’ll understand why businesses and societies worldwide turn to circular solutions for a more resilient and sustainable tomorrow.

Understanding the Circular Economy

linear economy vs circular economy diagram
linear economy vs circular economy diagram

The circular economy is designed to benefit businesses, industrial systems, society and the environment through a systemic approach to economic development. As an advanced economic model, it reduces resource consumption and environmental pollution while providing strong economic benefits and employment.

The model is based on three main principles, and what we love is that it’s all about reimagining waste.

The three principles of the circular economy:

  1. Remove waste and pollution
  2. Conserve raw materials
  3. Rebuild and restore ecosystems

Unlike the linear economy, the circular economy draws inspiration from nature, where resources flow in closed loops and waste is repurposed. It mirrors principles such as reducing, reusing, and recycling to extend product life cycles.

The approach counters the wasteful practices of the traditional linear economy by aiming to keep products and materials in use at their highest value and for as long as possible. Rather than products reaching their end-of-life, circular practices promote restoration and circularity. The result is less waste and a closed loop in the industrial ecosystem.

Transitioning to the circular business model can alleviate environmental pressures caused by pollution, congestion, and greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, it allows companies to tap into new markets by offering green products and services, contributing to long-term economic sustainability.

The Need for Change

It’s time for a breath of fresh air

The linear economy is the master of depleting natural resources and increasing CO2 emissions. We are seeing forests destroyed, oceans polluted, soil losing fertility, and biodiversity lost. The uncomfortable truth about the linear economy is that it results in interruptions in raw material supplies and contributes heavily to the depletion of natural systems and reserves.

With finite raw materials at our fingertips, now is the time to adopt circular practices.

By separating economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, the circular economy has the breathing room to confront global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

Yet, at this time, only 8.6% of the global economy is considered circular. This highlights an incredible opportunity for increasing the adoption of circular practices.

Circular Economy in Action

Turning waste into savings

Far from being just an abstract concept, the circular economy is a reality, making significant strides in the global economic landscape. Here are some key statistics from marketplace experts at McFadyen Digital:

  • The global valuation of the circular economy is approximately $410 billion (£322.67 billion).
  • Nearly a quarter of this value is contributed by circular platforms.
  • Circular platforms are anticipated to reach a valuation of $1.5 trillion (£1.18 trillion) by 2030, making up nearly 60% of this value

The circular economy has immense potential for growth, which can significantly contribute to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

Examples of the circular economy in action can be found across the world.


The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has overseen national circular economy demonstration pilot projects in China. These projects showcase the successful transition from demonstration to practical market application.

United States

The remanufacturing industry in the United States supports substantial economic activity, with $43 billion worth of remanufactured products and 180,000 related jobs. Remanufactured items are often sold for as low as 60% of the cost of new items, providing economic advantages to consumers.

Industry Transformations

We are seeing circular economy strategies being embraced by companies across various industries. Some examples include:

  • Patagonia and H&M. Within the fashion industry, these two companies are adopting repair, take-back, and sustainable material programmes.
  • Ikea. Leading the way in the furniture industry, Ikea has a vision to be circular by 2030. It has already implemented circular economy practices, from ensuring items can move and grow with you to increase the share of recycled polyester in its supply chain.
  • Unilever. In the consumer goods industry, Unilever is adopting circular economy strategies. One example is their reusable Cif eco-refill, which allows Cif spray bottles to be used for life.
  • BMW. Remanufacturing in the automotive sector reduces the need for raw materials, improves sustainability, and reduces waste. BMW has transitioned to using 50% secondary materials in their cast aluminium components.

Circular economy strategies can turn waste into savings. They stimulate local economies by converting waste into raw materials for production and generating sustainable employment growth.

At Waste Mission, we educate, inspire, and facilitate waste reduction for your business, collaborating with you and your supply chain to innovate and identify “waste” materials for conversion into valuable recyclable commodities.

Technology, Materials, Energy. Three Key Ingredients in the Circular Economy

Creating a future a few shades greener

The Role of Technology in the Circular Economy

Circular economy initiatives are enabled by the critical role played by technology. Digital tools such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and 3D printing support the transition to circular business models. They help automate processes, optimise resource use, and minimise waste.

These technologies facilitate the tracking and management of resources throughout their life cycles, enabling businesses to:

  • Identify opportunities for resource conservation and waste reduction
  • Enhance communication and collaboration across supply chains
  • Align efforts towards circular objectives

Innovating with Materials and Manufacturing

It’s exciting to see how companies are leading the way, innovating with materials and manufacturing. From biodegradable materials to sustainably sourced biological materials, sustainable practices are helping to create a more environmentally friendly future.

Inspiring companies adopting circular economy principles include:

  • Desso. Flooring company Desso is experimenting by using bamboo yarn and a biodegradable base for their woollen carpets from corn by-products to create biodegradable products.
  • DSM-Niaga. Reimagining bulky products like carpets and mattresses. DSM-Niaga designs furnishings using non-toxic, easy-to-disassemble, recyclable materials, paving the way for circular manufacturing practices.
  • Arqlite. Plastic recycling company Arqlite is transforming plastic waste into durable Smart Gravel, which can be used across the construction sector.

Renewable Energy Solutions

Adopting renewable energy solutions is foundational to building a resilient circular economy. At its heart, the circular economy aims to actively improve the environment by:

  • Avoiding the use of non-renewable resources
  • Preserving or enhancing renewable ones
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reducing waste generation

Moreover, the circular economy offers considerable benefits, including:

  • Minimising CO2 emissions by utilising waste as new raw materials
  • Promoting environmental sustainability
  • Transitioning to renewable energy and materials
  • Reducing our dependence on finite resources
  • Contributing to the health and well-being of our planet

Policy and Regulation: Fostering the Circular Economy

Treating waste as a valuable resource

Creating the right legislative environment to advance the circular economy requires collaboration between governments, businesses, and innovative startups. This involves aligning policies with circular objectives, providing support for circular initiatives, and creating incentives for businesses to adopt circular practices.

National Policies and Initiatives

The EU Commission’s first package of circular economy measures includes boosting sustainable products, empowering consumers, revising construction product regulations, and developing a sustainable textiles strategy.

In China, the government employs a top-down approach, with government targets and industry-specific indicators. Key circular economy projects receive financial incentives to help advance circular economy strategies.

In the U.S., the circular economy is supported by adopting the sustainable materials management approach, emphasising the reduction of lifecycle impacts and decoupling economic growth from material use.

The UK, aligning with their post-EU environmental standards, has implemented policy measures for circularity, including the desire to increase product longevity and reutilise resources productively.

Wales and Scotland have implemented their own circular economy strategies that aim for significant waste reduction and circular practices by 2050.

Overcoming Challenges to Circular Economy Adoption

At the heart is collaboration

It can be challenging transitioning to a circular economy. Here are a few hurdles to consider:

  1. Setting up a circular supply chain
  2. Redesigning products
  3. Ensuring a competitive business model
  4. Getting your workforce onboard

Concerted efforts from policymakers, manufacturers, and consumers are needed to foster a shift from consumption to sustainability.

Here are three top tips we can all bear in mind:

  • Create awareness about the benefits of the circular economy
  • Incentivise circular practices
  • Foster a culture of collaboration and innovation to promote circular behaviour

How to Build a Circular Supply Chain

Adopting a circular economy means establishing a circular supply chain:

  • Collaborate between businesses and stakeholders across the value chain
  • Align with like-minded partners to design end-to-end circular systems
  • Establish new policies fostering green production and consumption
  • Implement governance mechanisms to ensure continual improvement

These steps are crucial for innovating new products, processes and exchange systems.

Investing in Circular Innovation

Traditional recycling methods have limitations. A good example is plastic for food-grade packaging. After several recycling cycles, it loses its strength and has to be replaced. Instead, we need to invest in disruptive technologies and support innovative recycling processes to ensure efficient circular business models.

Adopting circular economy principles can align companies with broader sustainability goals, as demonstrated by the reduction in emissions and waste that accompanies the transition to circular business models.

Final Word

The circular economy represents a paradigm shift in our approach to economic development. It’s about moving away from the unsustainable ‘take-make-waste’ model towards a sustainable, regenerative system that mirrors nature’s cycles.

With its focus on eliminating waste, optimising resource use, and regenerating natural systems, the circular economy offers a viable solution to many of our global challenges. It’s a journey towards a future where economic growth and environmental sustainability go hand in hand, creating a world that is not just sustainable but also more equitable and inclusive.

Next Steps

If this article has challenged you to rethink waste, then we’d love to talk to you.

Even if your waste challenge seems complex, at Waste Mission, we focus on turning it into a simple, sustainable solution. We aim to simplify waste management by offering a bespoke, tailored service with a single supplier solution. Ultimately, we want to help you turn your waste into savings and create a future that is a few shades greener.