The ‘circular economy’ is one of the latest green catchphrases, but what exactly is it and is it achievable?
Tackling climate change is a global priority, but there’s no silver bullet to this international, multigenerational problem. The circular economy is one of the tools in the world’s green arsenal. It’s a pretty straightforward idea, but challenging to put into practice.
OK, so what is the ‘circular economy’ then?
Many businesses and industries are ‘extractive’ in nature. They extract natural resources from the Earth, using huge amounts of energy to do so – a process that releases carbon emissions into the atmosphere. They then use these resources to make products which are discarded as waste at the end of their lives. If the materials these products are made from are not biodegradeable, they simply pollute the earth – think of all the plastics in our oceans, for example.
In a circular economy, also known as a ‘cyclical’ or ‘closed loop’ economy, products which are no longer useful are turned into new products rather than dumped or destroyed. This helps reduce carbon emissions.
Isn’t that just recycling?
Recycling is a big part of the circular economy, but not the only part. Take mobile phones, for example. They’re full of precious metals which, when extracted from the ground, can command a high human and environmental cost. So it makes sense to recycle old phones, plucking out those precious metals for use in new phones.
But as our explanation shows, not everything in a phone can be recycled. Plus, no recycling process is 100% efficient. That makes reusing, repairing, and sharing materials and products just as important as recycling in a circular economy.
So what should we do with old phones?
Reusing old phones is a great way of extending their useful lives. For example, Vodafone’s Great British Tech Appeal redistributes donated phones and tablets to disadvantaged people across the UK who otherwise wouldn’t have internet access.