10 ways the impact of the circular economy is growing
1. There are financial benefits
A total of $1tn a year could be generated for the global economy by 2025 by rolling out circular business models, according to research by the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), and McKinsey & Company. The EMF also predicts that embracing the circular economy will make Europe more competitive; by taking part in the impending technology revolution, the continent could create a net benefit of €1.8tn (£1.3tn) by 2030 – that’s €0.9tn (£652bn) more than the current linear development path.
2. It is reducing waste
The UK is improving its efficiency when it comes to the use of resources. A recent study on the circular economy by Wrap (Waste and Resources Action Programme) and the Green Alliance found that the amount of resources wasted fell from 210m tonnes in 2000 to 160m tonnes in 2010. During the same period, the number of resources recycled increased from 50 to 150 m tonnes, and the resources extracted or imported fell from 520m to 420 m tonnes.
3. It’s good for the environment
Carbon emissions in the European Union could be cut by almost 70% by 2030 if a key set of circular economy principles was adopted, says the think tank, Club of Rome. Strategies include material and energy efficiency, and renewable energy. But action is needed now for this benefit to materialise; the report identifies 2015 as an opportunity to modernise the EU economy leading up to Cop21 in December.
4. Access over ownership is becoming easier
The author of What’s Mine is Yours, Rachel Botsman, has estimated that the consumer rental market is now worth $26bn (£16.7bn). The success of schemes such as Airbnb and Uber, as well as the huge variety of sites working along similar lines – like Rent the Runway and Spinlister – illustrate how the landscape is changing. A Forum for the Future report, Retail Horizons (pdf), notes that the trend has potential to create “a new form of consumer economy in which experiences and access to items are more desirable than ownership”.
5. It’s a job creator
In the UK, the number of people employed in circular activities rose from 425,000 in 2008 to 462,000 in 2012. Wrap and the Green Alliance predict that if the sector was to continue on its current development path, employment in this area would be at 667,000 in 2030. The analysis notes that different aspects of the circular economy make use of different skill levels in society, and that there is potential to create more jobs in occupations with high unemployment.
6. We’re more open to sharing
According to a Neilsen report, more than two-thirds of respondents (68%) are willing to join the sharing economy. The Retail Horizons report also says that more than one-third of millennials globally are already using an asset-sharing service. Forbes estimates that more than $3.5bn (£2.25bn) was spent through sharing economy services in 2013 alone.
7. City spaces are being reinvented for sustainability
In Amsterdam, 3,500 homes and 200,000m² of workplaces are to be built in a “circular fashion”. As part of this project, the 30m high Patch22 building will be made from sustainably-produced wood and will create all its own energy using methods such as solar panels. In the US, 15 mayors have signed a Shareable Cities Resolution, which recognises the potential of the sharing economy to improve the management of growth and urbanisation, the provision of public services, and the design of urban spaces.
Moreover, as new ways of food production methods are needed to meet the worlds’ increasing pressure on food supply, innovation of new farming technologies allows plants and crops to grow without sunlight in indoor urban environments. Philips is taking city farming to another level by enabling local food production (for example in empty office buildings), reducing waste, limiting food miles, and using very little land or water.
8. Reuse is growing
Classified ads platform Gumtree has noted an 89% increase in upcyclers using the website to sell items in the past year, while Etsy reports that the number of products tagged as “upcycled” increased from 7,900 in 2010 to 216,024 last year. In terms of second-hand items, more than 70% of the world’s population now use this type of clothing, and there are around 3,000 textile banks in the UK. While there is still plenty of room for improvement in the business world – clothes banks are only operating at about 25% capacity – big high-street fashion brands such as H&M and M&S now have take-back schemes for reuse and recycling. Closed-loop initiatives in stores and offices are becoming increasingly commonplace as well.
9. It’s changing how we travel
In London, 50% of residents now live within a five minute walk of a car club, and across the UK more than 55,000 car club members say they joined as an alternative to buying a car. Worldwide, bike sharing schemes are on the up and China is leading the way; the city of Wuhan has 90,000 bikes in circulation, whereas Paris has 23,900, London has 10,000, and Barcelona 6,000.
10. Officials are legislating for a circular future
Countries around the world are beginning to make their circular economy aims official. Japan is one of those leading the way; 98% of metals are now recovered thanks to a law passed in 2002 that treats materials as circular. Last year, Sweden passed a law requiring retailers selling electronic items to accept the same quantity for reuse or recycling, and the Danish government has set out plans to recycle 50% of household waste by 2022. The European Commission, meanwhile, is currently consulting on circular economy regulation.