Bosco Verticale garden building in Milan, Italy

Three Circular Economy Trends To Watch In 2020

Three Circular Economy Trends To Watch In 2020

From Australia’s bushfires to double-digit temperatures in January, most of us are aware of our planet’s deteriorating health. To rectify these issues, it’s clear that we must collectively shift from our current economic model towards a Circular Economy. 

To guide you through the concept, we have highlighted some key Circular Economy trends in 2020. Although these constitute a fraction of thousands of incredible initiatives, these are structural changes with the power to make a real difference. 

What Is Circular Economy?

Our current global economic model operates according to three non-sustainable pillars: take, make and waste, with dire consequences for our environmental and financial health. Towering landfills absorb the bulk of the 3.5 million tons of solid waste the world generates each day. 

To build a non-harmful, sustainable growth model, we must move away from the linear economy towards a Circular Economy. 

The concept of Circular Economy reduces waste and pollution by continuously reusing materials and products. This paradigm involves individuals, businesses and governments at every level. A Circular Economy creates a traceable thread and shifts the way we use and consume products.   

Circular economy demonstrated in 3 steps

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation identifies three principles of the Circular Economy as:

  • Design out waste and pollution
  • Keep products and materials in use
  • Regenerate natural systems

By uniting the key components of durability, reuse, remanufacturing and recycling, we eliminate the notion of waste. 

You can read more about the basics of Circular Consumerism in one of our previous blog posts on how a Circular Economy works.

Why Are Circular Economy Trends Important?

The United Nations tells us that at the current speed, we’ve only a decade left to clean up our act. If we fail to do so, swathes of the Earth will be uninhabitable by 2030. The weather will become increasingly unpredictable and volatile with hurricanes, soaring temperatures and droughts jeopardising our collective livelihood. 

To avoid a fast track to a frightening future, we must transform the way we live, work, eat and consume. 

We can change our habits for the better by applying the seven ‘R’s: Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Refurbish, Recover, Recycle. It’s within our power to apply these concepts when consuming and discarding. 

Recycling as part of the 7 Rs of circular economy

By redesigning the system and rethinking the definition of progress, we can achieve economic growth without sacrificing our planet’s wellbeing. In a Circular Economy, no industry is exempt from participation and no individual lives beyond its scope.

Fortunately, Circular Economy trends are constantly evolving. Existing businesses continue to dismantle outdated models and start-ups are disrupting the way we think about growth with new technologies. 

The Rise of Circular Design

In an essay on circular design, Nik Paresh emphasises the human obsession with straight lines. We rarely acknowledge the inherent naturalness of curves, circles and loops.    

However, in a Circular Economy, the closed loop rules. Our previous global model, which decoupled economy from ecology fostered a society that deemed the depletion of finite resources acceptable. Moving forward, a circular design process takes into account the full lifecycle of every material and product, just as nature intended. 

The old model affects the planet in negative ways. In fact, we can determine that 80% of environmental impact is due to our global economic model.

Circular Economy T-Shirts

Love Fair Fashion T-shirts by Sabinna are created using a circular process – just one of the examples of where fashion can take the lead in a Circular Economy

Made from 100% GOTS certified organic cotton, these tees can be sent back to the factory to be recycled. Simply scan a QR code on the care label to start the process.

Sabinna created these closed-loop T-shirts in collaboration with TeeMill, who specialise in making new products from recovered materials. TeeMill products are designed be returned and remade, again and again, never becoming a waste product.

Ergonomics Gone Circular  

How about office furniture? Its production requires a lot of material and energy. Not much is reused. However, one retailer has something to say about that.

Dutch retailer Royal Ahrend manufactures office furniture in accordance with principles of circular design. All products are designed with the intention of making a piece easy to disassemble. This allows for easy transfer of components to different stages and new products. 

To maximise the life span of its products, Ahrend offers the Furniture as a Service (FaaS).

Ahrend furniture focusing on circular design

Take-Back Schemes

A Take-Back Scheme is a programme set up by a brand. It takes back used products or materials from consumers and reintroduces them to the original processing and manufacturing cycle. In some cases, the take-back scheme applies only to the company’s own products. In other instances, the company in question may decide to collect the same product from other brands too.

Take-back schemes do not tie into the design process per se, but they’re achieving an effective reuse and recycling infrastructure. 

Marks & Spencer Plastic Take-Back Initiative

In early 2019, Marks & Spencer launched a new plastic take-back scheme. The initiative prevents plastic waste from ending up in landfill. By setting up recycling bins across its stores, Marks & Spencers allows consumers to drop off black ready meal trays, crisp packets, sauce sachets and certain cosmetics containers. 

In turn, the retailer gives these items a second life by recycling them into store fittings, furniture and playground equipment for schools.  

M&S take back scheme

Cradle To Cradle (cradle to cradle certification)

With a value loss of up to $2.7 trillion, 84% of the materials in a product end up in landfill or an incinerator after use – this process is commonly known as “Cradle to Grave”.

The Circular Economy presents us with the principle of Cradle to Cradle. According to this Circular Economy doctrine, a product’s grave is effectively eliminated.  

A brand can obtain a certification with c2ccertified to adhere to the Cradle To Cradle model. Brands are then entered into a registry where conscious consumers search and shop for circular products. 

Circular Economy Jeans 

Dutch brand, MUD Jeans is a great example of the Cradle To Cradle principle. Jeans have a notoriously high environmental impact with 7,600 litres of water used to create each pair. 

Derived from discarded jeans, MUD Jeans assimilates 40% recycled content in the design of its products. If your jeans are 96% cotton, MUD will ship them to factories in Spain or Italy. Here, they shred the material and mix it with new organic cotton. This way, MUD Jeans effectively distils the impact of its products.  

MUD jeans make jeans part of the circular economy

In 2013, MUD Jeans launched the “Lease A Jeans” programme. So for €7.50 per month, plus a sign-up fee of €29.00, the brand is leasing garments to customers. When the jeans are worn out, or if you fancy a change, simply return them and switch to a new pair. The brand then recycles the old jeans into new items.

As it stands, the planet is under a lot of stress caused, in majority, by reckless consumerism with little regard for long-term effects. 

Adopting Circular Economy trends and championing the brands using them can change this. By rethinking and redesigning the way we interact with and consume nature, we can establish a model causing little to no harm. Of all sustainable efforts, creating a Circular Economy must be the end goal.

Written by Kimie Frengler