What would a circular economy look like?

Often when we think about sustainability, we focus on the problems. Recent headlines raised alarm about the whale that washed up in the Philippines with 40kg of plastic bags in its stomach. The effect of excessive waste is clear. But how do we solve these problems?

Right now, we live in a linear economy. Products are produced, used, and thrown out. However, we can imagine a circular economy where we reuse all the products we make, or recycle their materials into new items. 

Circular Economy
Image from Recycling Council of Ontario.

What would a circular economy look like?

H&M World Recycle Week

Source: H&M press release.

As we noted in an earlier blog post, circular economy already exists around us. For example, H&M’s World Recycle Week collected and converted unwanted clothes into new products. During the events, customers could take any unwanted, worn out garments and textiles no matter where were originated and how they were looked like. H&M also gave incentives to them by giving the vouchers to shop in the store after their donations.

Eventually, H&M gather over 25,000 tonnes of garments from several World recycle weeks. Later on, H&M introduced the new garments which can actually turn the collections into the products. Therefore, the clothes would not be limited in the one path destiny from the shop to the landfill, and H&M gave them more times to come into play.

The goal for this event was for closing the loop for textiles, therefore we could turn “waste” into wealth, and advertised for sustainability to the public. They also said that they want to have no garment being thrown away into the garbage in the future and at the same time the natural resources can be saved by giving the second life to any applicable materials

Refillable Packaging

Refillable Bottles
Replenish 3.0 bottles. Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

These days, the value of most of the cleaning products we buy from the stores are overestimated, because they actually just mixed a large amount of easily found source water and a few deserved ingredients. However, in order to ship the products to the stores, the industries still need to prepare the wrapping packages, long-distance transportation and government deals with the bunch of one time used plastic bottles. Instead of the traditional one-way destiny of the landfilled plastic bottles, one company, Replenish 3.0 started to innovate the new lifestyle for people starting to reuse.

The packages are shown in the above image. People just need to fill the bottom measuring cup with any concentrated liquid whatever they are for the purpose of cleaning or drinking. Then they can be used after pouring the water inside the bottle.

This case is actually a win-win situation. Customers can spend less money and have easier accesses to the daily supplies. In the other way, the special customized bottles give the incentive for people to reuse, and it helps with reducing the amount of single-use plastic bottles to be landfill, which is hard to decompose.  

Car Sharing

GoMore car share. Source: State of Green.

In the case of Denmark, a single car only carries 1.4 people on average, and the daily parking time even reaches to 23 hours. The application of cars is not that high and creates the inefficiency, which has a low use ratio and the cars also are a large cost for the owners,

GoMore provides the service that supports people for the journey by sharing cars. This actually rises the use of ratio and decreases the numbers of cars, and then reduce the carbon dioxide emission to the environment. For the purpose, this also gives benefits to the car owner and passengers. This also creates a way for promoting communication among peers.

Is circular economy the solution?


In our current environmental crisis, the transition to circular economy seems both necessary and inevitable. Circular economy would play on the strengths of technological innovation. It may seem like a radical change, but really we would keep buying our products on a capitalist market…just one where companies compete to recycle things efficiently, rather than making endless quick n’ cheap items. There would be hardly any waste!


Circular economy does nothing to address the social problems associated with the environmental crisis. In fact, it would likely concentrate power even more in the hands of big companies like Nike, who are already committing social injustices. Most of us wouldn’t own products anymore, we would simply lease them from companies who rent and recycle them for continued profit.

Can you think of more examples of circular economy? How do they address environmental issues?

By Rachel Cheng (SustainX Volunteer)
and Freya H-T (Blog Team Leader)

Inspired by a SOC369 lecture by Dr. Sourayan Mookerjea.

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