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Keeping Up with the Circular Loop

Opposing to the linear way of take, make and dispose, circular economy fosters socio-economical changes in the way we perceive our consumption habits. This means adopting a four R’s policy (reduce, reuse, recycle and recover) and “keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times”.

Dag! My name is Francisco, I come from Portugal and I am currently living in Kortrijk, Belgium. I am the ESR12 of the EU H2020 MSCA-ETN SULTAN project, working on the mineral residue valorisation on ceramic applications. During my Master’s degree I came across the Circular Economy concept and since then, I never stop believing on it and aspire for a better future. More recently, I have co-founded a start-up project working on boosting the collection of electronic waste from householders and businesses, thus fostering circular economy concept.

Circular economy is a popular concept that is far from being new. It first started in an analogy established in an article published in the mid-60s of the last century, by the English-born American economist Kenneth Boulding. Boulding made an analogy between planet Earth and a resource-limited spaceship, where the survival of the crew depended entirely on the recycling and the incessant reuse of available resources [1].

During the 70s, the notion of circular economy had already been developed by the “economy of the environment”. It gained prominence in the 90s, especially in 1996 when John Tillman Lyle publish the book “Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development” [2], on which Lyle started evolving ideas on regenerative design to all systems.

Since 2010, Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) has joined forces with businesses, governments and academia to work on supporting and promoting circular ecosystems for a more sustainable and healthy society. The main goal of the foundation is to accelerate transition to a circular economy.

But what is circular economy?

Opposing to the linear way of take, make and dispose, circular economy fosters socio-economical changes in the way we perceive our consumption habits. This means adopting a four R’s policy (reduce, reuse, recycle and recover) and “keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times” [3].

According to EMF, circular economy is based on 3 principles:

●      Principle 1: Design out waste and pollution (regenerate, virtualise and exchange).

●      Principle 2: Keep products and materials in use (regenerate, share, optimise and loop).

●      Principle 3: Regenerate natural systems (there is no concept of waste).

Figure 1 - Infographic with principles and cycles of a circular economy

 

Figure 1 – Infographic with principles and cycles of a circular economy [4]

 

In a circular economy model there are two different cycles with continuous flows [5]:

Biological cycle: consumption happens only in this cycle, where food and biologically-based materials are designed to feed back into the system through processes like composting and anaerobic digestion. This cycle regenerates living systems, such as soil, which provide renewable resources for the economy.

Technical cycle: on this cycle, recovery and restoration of products, components, and materials take place through strategies like maintenance, reuse/redistribute, refurbish/remanufacture or recycle.

Overall, circular economy is a “closed” loop (with minimal residual waste) that increases resource efficiency and promotes substitution of raw materials. Without change at all scales in large and small businesses, organisations, governments, but most of all in the individuals that make part of them, we can’t have a circular economy and aspire to have environmental and societal benefits.

Promoting the remediation and reprocessing of sulfidic mining waste sites is the main goal of SULTAN project. By combining a multidisciplinary team, we are looking into possible ways to extract valuable raw materials from mine waste tailings and maximise their use into different applications (inorganic polymers, ceramics and green cements), without forgetting the environmental assessment throughout all the processes used. Making a change by transforming waste into a resource and boost secondary raw material use, resource efficiency and extend lifespan of resources is what drive us all to this common goal of making a change and shape a better world.

If you are still wondering what a circular economy model can look like, take a look into nature and see how “nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed” (Lavoisier).

 

[1] Boulding, K., 1966. The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth. National Council for Sciences and the Environment, Boston University, pp..

[2] Lyle, J., 1996. Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development. Landscape Architecture. John Wiley & Sons. New York.

[3] EMF (Ellen MacArthur Foundation), 2015. Towards a Circular Economy: Business rationale for an accelerated transition. EMF, pp. 2-9.

[4] EMF, McKinsey & SUN, 2015. Growth within: a circular economy vision for a competitive Europe. Ellen MacArthur Foundation, McKinsey Centre for Business and Environment and Stiftungsfonds für Umweltökonomie und Nachhaltigkeit (SUN), pp. 24.

[5] EMF (Ellen MacArthur Foundation), n.d. Concept. What is a circular economy? A framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design. Retrieved from . Accessed on June 2019.