Unlike the traditional linear economy—where resources are mined, made into products, and eventually discarded as waste—the circular economy embodies a restorative or regenerative system designed to eliminate waste through superior design of materials, products, and business models.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency EPA, a circular economy reduces material use, redesigns products to be less resource-intensive, and considers "waste" as a resource for manufacturing new materials and products. It represents a fundamental shift away from our current take-make-waste model, aiming to decouple economic growth from the exhaustive use of resources while meeting societal needs.
The circular economy is a key player in the battle against climate change. The United Nations’ International Resource Panel found that the extraction and processing of natural resources contribute to approximately half of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, transitioning to a circular model, where waste is drastically reduced and materials are continually reused, can significantly curb these emissions. Moreover, EPA is tirelessly working on strategies to reduce the adverse impacts of materials on our environment.
Designed thoughtfully and inclusively, the circular economy has the potential to not only protect the environment but also to drive economic growth and advance social justice. The principle of sustainability requires social equity and the circular economy, in its essence, aligns with this principle.
For decades, underserved communities have suffered from the negative environmental and health impacts due to a non-circular economy. Landfills, waste management, manufacturing, and processing facilities often disproportionately burden these low-income communities. By advocating for a circular economy, EPA aims to alleviate this burden, reducing waste, reusing critical minerals, and fostering the creation of safe jobs within healthy communities.
The transition to a circular economy presents an exciting opportunity for innovative growth and sustainability. By shifting our perspective on waste and resource use, we can pave the way for a healthier planet and a more equitable society.