What is a circular economy?

Through its research and work with organisations that are making the transition towards a circular economy the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has written a concept paper which outlines the idea of a circular economy. Parts of their research are printed below. For more information about their work see here. Also below are some examples from the Zero Waste Scotland website of Scottish companies that are already implementing circular economy principles in their businesses. With the news that Eco Savvy are joining up with Strathclyde University to model waste streams on Arran with a view to finding ways to sustainably dispose of waste on the island, this research provides some context to the vision of circular economy modelling and how it can work in practice.

What is a circular economy? A framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design.

Looking beyond the current take-make-dispose extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital. It is based on three principles:
• Design out waste and pollution
• Keep products and materials in use
• Regenerate natural systems

Re-thinking Progress: The Circular Economy
There’s a world of opportunity to rethink and redesign the way we make stuff. ‘Re-Thinking Progress’ explores how through a change in perspective we can re-design the way our economy works – designing products that can be ‘made to be made again’ and powering the system with renewable energy. It questions whether with creativity and innovation we can build a restorative economy.

The concept of a circular economy
In a circular economy, economic activity builds and rebuilds overall system health. The concept recognises the importance of the economy needing to work effectively at all scales – for large and small businesses, for organisations and individuals, globally and locally.
Transitioning to a circular economy does not only amount to adjustments aimed at reducing the negative impacts of the linear economy. Rather, it represents a systemic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.

Technical and biological cycles
The model distinguishes between technical and biological cycles. Consumption happens only in biological cycles, where food and biologically-based materials (such as cotton or wood) are designed to feed back into the system through processes like composting and anaerobic digestion. These cycles regenerate living systems, such as soil, which provide renewable resources for the economy. Technical cycles recover and restore products, components, and materials through strategies like reuse, repair, remanufacture or (in the last resort) recycling.

Origins of the circular economy concept
The notion of circularity has deep historical and philosophical origins. The idea of feedback, of cycles in real-world systems, is ancient and has echoes in various schools of philosophy. It enjoyed a revival in industrialised countries after World War II when the advent of computer-based studies of non-linear systems unambiguously revealed the complex, interrelated, and therefore unpredictable nature of the world we live in – more akin to a metabolism than a machine. With current advances, digital technology has the power to support the transition to a circular economy by radically increasing virtualisation, de-materialisation, transparency, and feedback-driven intelligence.

The Zero Waste Scotland website gives some great examples of the circular economy in action. There are several companies (see below) in Scotland already implementing circular economy principles within their businesses – from product re-design to reverse logistics.

Argent Energy uses waste fats and oils to convert into high grade biodiesel used by vehicles and in heating and/or power generation.

Aurora Sustainability recovers coffee waste and heat from whisky distilleries to produce and supply dry fresh mushrooms. The end product, made entirely from waste, also improves Scottish biodiversity as in terms of CO2 capturing, as mushrooms can increase tree growth three fold.

CCL North offer secure IT recycling and refurbishment as well as WEEE recycling. They are currently looking to set up a re-use facility for general WEEE.

Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture take the by-products of one aquatic species and provides food for another in an innovative trial taking place in Loch Fyne.

Ogilvy Spirits is Scotland’s first Potato Vodka producer, making vodka from potatoes not suitable for retail.

OI currently produce around 2 million bottles per day and up to 800 million per annum. They do this using up to 20% recycled flint, 70% recycled green and 25% recycled amber glass.

Peel Tech is a Scottish invention which takes waste from a typical potato peeler separating waste skin and compacting potato starch so that drains are free from waste and peelings can be used for animal feed. The technology is being rolled out across typical “Fish and Chip” shops across Scotland and helps businesses comply with Waste Regulations.

Jaw Brew in partnership with Aulds the Bakers has created a zero waste, low alcohol beer from leftover bread rolls. The “Hard Tack” beer is now available to buy around Glasgow.

Juice upgrades their customers’ lighting to LED by offering a leasing model for LED lighting, based on the concept that a business customer only needs light, but does not need to own the light fixtures and fittings.

Vegware are the only company In the UK to develop, manufacture and distribute a full range of completely compostable food packaging and catering disposables.