The Circular Economy and Sustainable Waste Management

One of the biggest problems we face today is the decline of the planet’s natural resources and the rate at which the materials we do have get turned to waste.

Resources | 8min read

The take-make-dispose linear economy that many industries still subscribe to generates massive waste. Up to 90% of the raw materials that are used in manufacturing are turned to waste before the product leaves the factory, while 80% of the products that are made are thrown away within just six months. 

This current model of waste generation and management is neither sustainable nor responsible, which is why it’s so important that organisations of every size transition to the circular economy.

What is a circular economy?

A circular economy is the process of decoupling economic growth from resource consumption and waste. Rather than using resources and throwing them away, in a circular economy, resources are kept for as long as possible and reused before being recycled and regenerated at the end of their natural life.

The core principles of a circular economy

Design out waste and pollution

The ultimate goal of a circular economy is to remove waste and pollution altogether through responsible production processes that get the most value from the natural resources they use. That will benefit human health and the planet’s natural systems.  

Keep products and materials in use

A circular economy favours products, materials and components that are designed for durability, reuse, remanufacturing and recycling. That keeps them circulating in the economy so they don’t end up in landfill. This is particularly relevant for products and materials with short lifespans, such as food packaging.

Regenerate natural systems

Rather than doing less harm, the circular economy aims to do good to the environment. In the natural world, there is no waste. The circular economy aims to mimic the natural cycles of carbon, oxygen, water etc. by creating a model that protects, supports and improves our environment. Examples include using renewable energy and returning nutrients to the soil to support regeneration. 

Origins of the circular economy

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is one of the most prominent driving forces behind the circular economy today. However, the idea of a circular economy is one that was first developed by academics more than 40 years ago.

In 1976, an architect and industrial analyst named Walter Stahl put forward his vision of a ‘performance economy’ in a report to the European Commission. It described an economy that worked in loops and explained the impact it could have on economic competitiveness, resource savings and waste prevention. He’s also credited with coining the expression ‘Cradle to Cradle’. 

American architect Bill McDonagh and German chemist Michael Braungart went on to develop the Cradle to Cradle concept and process. It focuses on designing products that have a positive impact by reducing the negative impacts of commerce through efficiency. 

In the US, John T. Lyle, a professor of landscape architecture, developed ideas on regenerative design and laid the foundations for the circular economy framework that exists today. The Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies offers courses on the subject. It teaches how the development of ecological, social and economic systems that regenerate can protect the future of communities and the planet. 

There are ongoing efforts to promote the circular economy worldwide and in the UK:

PACE (Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy) 

PACE is a collaboration platform for global leaders and their organisations, set up by the World Economic Forum. It provides leaders with the connections, learning and opportunities to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. 

Circular Economy Standard BS 8001:2017  

This ground-breaking standard provides guidance and recommendations to help UK organisations turn circular economy concepts and theories into practical steps that they can implement in their businesses. This standard can be used by any organisation regardless of its size, type or sector.  

Benefits of a circular economy

Moving towards a circular economy will deliver benefits for businesses, consumers, the economy and the planet.

  • EconomicAnalysis from McKinsey suggests that moving to a circular economy could add $1 trillion to the global economy by 2025, create 100,000 new jobs and lead to significant material cost savings.
  • Environmental – In Europe, a circular economy development plan could halve carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and reduce primary material consumption (i.e. construction materials, real estate land, pesticides, artificial fertiliser, fuels, non-renewable electricity and agricultural water use) by 32%.
  • ConsumersAnalysis shows that the circular economy could reduce the cost of products and services, with the average disposable income for European households increasing by 3,000.
  • Businesses – Businesses can benefit significantly by shifting their operations in line with the circular economy. They can lower their costs and create new revenue streams, reduce their exposure to volatile raw materials prices and benefit from improved customer interaction and loyalty.     

AMA Waste’s commitment to a circular economy

Sustainability is one of our core values at AMA Waste. For us, limiting our environmental impact is more than just a legal requirement. It’s a commitment to our customers and the world around us. That’s why: 

  • 98% of our customers’ waste is recycled
  • We aim to plant 5,000 trees a year to offset the carbon footprint of our services
  • All staff are supplied with a reusable bottle 
  • Energy-saving light bulbs are used throughout our head office

If you’re looking for a waste management company that can help you meet your environmental obligations, please don’t hesitate to get in touch today.