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What is the difference between circular and linear economy

What is the difference between circular and linear economy

Every few days there is news of big retail brand names claiming to set environmental goals in order to achieve a higher level of sustainability and be more eco-friendly. And whereas that is, obviously, great news, we can’t help but wonder if it is enough and if that solves the problem. 

In a fast-growing economy where consumers are told that they need to change their smartphone every year or their clothes every few months, how useful is it that those items are made of more sustainable materials if we don’t change our consumption. Moreover, the production of those items requires so many resources and generates so much waste that the impact on our planet is obvious.

It’s because of the above that there has been a lot of talk about linear and circular economies lately. For a better insight here are the definitions of both models. 

A linear economy (the current model), consists of converting natural resources into waste, via production, leading to the deterioration of the environment in two ways; by the removal of natural capital from the environment and by the reduction of the value of natural capital caused by the pollution from the waste generated. In this case, pollution also occurs at the stage of resource acquisition.

On the other side, a circular economy, besides being the antonym of linear, is envisaged as having no net effect on the environment; sourcing natural capital in a sustainable way, producing more efficiently to generate little to no waste and recycling what is left. Restoring any damage done in resource acquisition, while ensuring little waste is generated throughout the production process and in the life history of the product

(Definitions from: Alan Murray & Keith Skene & Kathryn Haynes, 2017. “The Circular Economy: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Concept and Application in a Global Context,” Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 140(3), pages 369-380, February.)

It is undeniable that our planet has limited resources and that, at this rate, we are using them in a very wasteful matter as well as polluting what natural resources are left. Many countries and international institutions have been studying and setting sustainable economic guidelines; Greece, Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands, for example, have started their efforts to develop a circular economy on a national and governmental level. 

It is essential that we find a production model in which we use our natural resources better, generate less waste and, as a last resource, recycle into new materials that we can’t reuse, redefining and rethinking our economic models in order to protect planet Earth.

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