A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals, which impair reuse and return to the biosphere, and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models.
For technical nutrients, the circular economy largely replaces the concept of a consumer with that of a user. This calls for a new contract between businesses and their customers based on product performance. Unlike in today’s buy-and-consume economy, durable products are leased, rented or shared wherever possible. If they are sold, there are incentives or agreements in place to ensure the return and thereafter the reuse of the product or its components and materials at the end of its period of primary use.
The power of the inner circle refers to minimizing comparative materials use vis-à-vis the linear production system. The tighter the circle, i.e. the less a product has to be changed in reuse, refurbishment and remanufacturing and the faster it returns to use, the higher the potential savings on the shares of material, labour, energy and capital still embedded in the product, and the associated externalities (such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water and toxicity).
The power of circling longer refers to maximizing the number of consecutive cycles (be it repair, reuse, or full remanufacturing) and/or the time in each cycle. Each prolonged cycle avoids the material, energy and labour of creating a new product or component.
The power of cascaded use refers to diversifying reuse across the value chain.