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What is the circular economy?

Blog by Yanika

Sustainable Merton Community Champion

In the current economic landscape, systems are largely based on a linear economic model: take-make-waste. It has completely shaped the world around us. Here’s one example: We take fossil fuels from the earth, generate energy, then use up that energy while releasing chemicals, toxins and pollutants into the air. Here’s another: We extract oil from the earth, manufacture plastic and bottle water in it, drink that water and throw the bottle away.

All around us, we have developed systems where we extract natural resources, design and manufacture products, food, clothes, construction material, white goods, electronics, vehicles, etc and after a relatively short life cycle, we discard these items. Yes, we have our 2nd hand shops, repair cafes and recycling where items get given a second life, but we can all agree that this isn’t the norm.

So what’s the solution?

The CIRCULAR ECONOMY offers us an alternative; one which paints a bright and thriving future. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, where I currently work as a data analyst/scientist, has three guiding principles on what the circular economy looks like.

The first is probably one you can guess: Regenerate natural systems. Shift to renewable energy, practice regenerative agriculture, avoid monocultures which drain the earth of nutrients.

The second principle asks us to design out waste and pollution. The term ‘design’ here is applied with a very broad brush stroke. We design all our products, food, policies, legislation, you name it. When growing crops, we can use all parts for food, packaging, etc. We can design better and affordable filtration systems to purify water and thus avoid the need of plastic bottles. We can design policies and legislation which encourage individuals and organisations to invest in these circular products. The list goes on and on.

The third principle focuses on keeping products and materials in use. Again, this is a question of design. How can we manufacture better products so that it’s easier to repair them, it’s easier to keep using them, it’s easier to give them a second life?

The wonderful thing about the circular economy is that it is all about our potential and the realm of possibility. We have designed everything around us. Why not redesign them in a smarter way? Why not redesign them to allow both the environment and humankind to thrive and flourish? Why do we stick to a system which taxes the environment and which we know to be unsustainable?


If you would like to discuss the circular economy in further detail, do get in touch by sending an email to Or go have a read of the Ellen MacArthur’s seminal research HERE.

Please note that this article was not written obo the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. I am writing as someone who greatly believes in the promise of the circular economy.



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