Every year, we try to make at least one new resolution – living more healthily, making more time for family, spending less time online are just a few examples. While the trend towards a more conscious lifestyle is no longer a novelty, it’s more relevant and necessary than ever. Here, being ‘conscious’ means being fully aware of the environment and our surroundings – both as consumers and business owners.
Global warming, species loss and resource scarcity are ubiquitous. Simultaneously, the global population is steadily increasing and living standards are improving worldwide. The traditional economic model of ‘dig up – turn into products – throw away’ can no longer work as our resources are finite. The circular economy offers us an alternative. “It’s a model in which increasing numbers of products and materials are naturally and efficiently ‘returned to the loop’,” explains Markus Hiebel, Head of the Sustainability and Resource Management department and Sustainability Officer at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology UMSICHT. This ‘repair – reuse – recycle’ approach keeps materials within the economy while reducing resource consumption and damage to the environment. New business models are also generated, with many new jobs being created in the fields of eco-design, waste prevention, repair and recycling, as well as new products and services. Hiebel: “Smaller-scale approaches already exist – such as repair cafés or online product lending/sharing platforms organised as part of the ‘sharing economy’. There’s still a lot of potential, though.”
Lawmakers have also recognised the relevance of the circular economy. In 2015, the European Commission published an action plan to accelerate Europe’s transition to a closed-loop economic model. The plan includes proposals for the entire product life cycle: product design, material procurement, manufacturing, consumption, recycling and returning to production. On 14 March 2017, MEPs voted to adopt a Circular Economy Package that constitutes an important step towards the creation of an effective closed-loop economy. Key aspects include increasing recycling targets, limiting landfill use and reducing the amount of food wastage. “
The throwaway society is long past its sell-by date. A closed-loop economy is the only viable model for the future,” argues Hiebel. Focusing our efforts to create an economy based on the closed-loop model offers us the chance to reduce business costs, create jobs and protect our environment.
For the full interview with Dr.-Ing. Markus Hiebel on the relevance of the circular economy, please see the latest ‘resources SAVED’ study, available at www.resources-saved.com