Beyond Recycling: Unpacking the Circular Economy

A brief explanation.

Author: Emma Menebroker

8/7/20233 min read

What is the Circular Economy?

🟩Let’s start at square one, what is a circular economy and why does it matter?

The basis of the circular economy is simple, it focuses on minimizing waste and promoting the reuse and recycling of materials. Many countries are shifting towards a circular economy to mitigate their climate change impacts, including the implementation of many circular economy road maps in European Union countries (Isles, 2021).

This concept gets sticky though when you realize the diverse real-world actors that have a stake in whether we move towards this more environmentally conscious system. Government must push positive legislation, businesses must adapt, and consumers must make conscious decisions and play an active role in determining how we reach a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future.

So, what is our system right now?

Today we predominantly have a linear economy, where goods are bought at a vendor and it is the job of the buyer to dispose of the item at the end of life. This system is built on planned obsolescence and limited warranties that will inevitably become a cost to the consumer.

The circular economy is the opposite. Instead of throwing away items when broken, this system is based on modality, where modular parts can be replaced to greatly extend the lifetime of a product. In addition to the reuse and refurbishing of items, the circular economy also relies on the recycling of materials when they reach the end of life. Whether that be deconstructing a material to the atomic level or melting and shredding plastic, there is a large demand for innovation in order to understand how we can better break down complex compounds found in the goods we consume.

👀Looking for an example of the circular economy in action?

Check out Loopworks, a Portland-based company that recycles textiles. Their past work includes repurposing airplane seats into bags and accessories! Another company to keep an eye on is LanzaTech. This company works to sequester and capture harmful GHG emissions and conduct carbon recycling using bacteria to ferment otherwise harmful fumes!

The third type of economy becoming ever more present is the performance economy. This system relies on the renting or leasing of items to consumers where businesses are in charge of ensuring the longevity of their products. (Stahel, 2016).

It’s time to replicate nature! 🌿

In a 2022 article in the journal Circular Economy, researchers Harald Desing and Nicola Blum discuss the need to reduce the chemical complexity of materials to more basic elements, similar to what is seen in nature which predominantly relies on carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorus, to build us and much or the world around us. ⚗️ The researchers also mention the intensive energy usage required to repurpose many of the complex materials in our daily lives. But unlike nature, supplied with a constant energy input from the sun that promotes decomposition, many of the compounds we are consuming today require a substantial amount of energy to be broken down. They elaborate that, “ "elements of hope" should become a central strategy for a sustainable circular economy. Atmospheric carbon is a good example: we need to remove it from the atmosphere anyway, so why not make useful products out of it and replace current impactful materials?” (Desing and Blum, 2022). By using materials that promote a climate-friendly future that are in high abundance we can more effectively implement a circular economy!

So, what can we do?

The form that the circular economy is taking in many countries today is one of innovation. New discoveries and novel ideas from anyone and everyone are fueling a shift toward a more sustainable future.

If you have a new idea you would like to see come to fruition, we would love to help! For more information visit:


Desing, Harald, and Nicola Blum. “On Circularity, Complexity and (Elements of) Hope.” Circular Economy, vol. 1, no. 1, Feb. 2023. (Crossref),

Isles, Joe. “Which Country is Leading the Circular Economy Shift?.” Ellen Macarthur Foundation, June 2021,

Stahel, Walter R. “The Circular Economy.” Nature (London) 531.7595 (2016): 435–438.