In previous articles on this website and elsewhere readers may have noticed various references to the term “the circular economy“. So what exactly does this mean?
One official definition appears on the WRAP website which states that the circular economy is one in which
“we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life”.
This diagram, kindly supplied by WRAP, helps to explain this process
WRAP – the Waste and Resources Action Programme – is a UK organisation doing important work on a wide range of waste-related topics including sustainable textiles, sustainable plastics, food waste and drink, and are regarded as experts in the fields of the circular economy and resource efficiency.
More information can be found by visiting https://www.wrap.org.uk/
Interest in the circular economy has gathered pace rapidly over the last ten years, not least because of the ground-breaking work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Many Falmouth residents and visitors will remember the triumphant return of Ellen MacArthur to the town in 2005, having completed a circumnavigation of the globe single-handed, and in a world record time.
As a result of her sailing achievements (for which she was honoured with a Damehood) and after travelling the world, she retired from competitive sailing in 2009 having, in an interview with the BBC, explained that she had
“realised that on land we don’t see things as precious any more. We take what we want. And it started to make me think. I was looking at plans for the future and it hit home to me.
And we’re not managing the resources that we have as you would on a boat because we don’t have the impression that these resources are limited.”
She said it was living on a boat which made her realise how many resources are wasted.
“When you sail on a boat you take with you the minimum of resources. You don’t waste anything. You don’t leave the light on; you don’t leave a computer screen on. And I realised that on land we take what we want.”
Shortly afterwards, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation was formed in 2010 with a “mission to accelerate the transition to a circular economy” which “is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems”. You can read the full story at https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/
In September 2019 a key report was published by the Foundation in conjunction with Materials Economics – Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change – which reveals the need for a fundamental shift in the global approach to cutting emissions. Namely, that de-carbonizing the energy sector alone will not achieve a net-zero carbon economy – a transition to a circular economy is also vital. Read the full report on the above website.
The Foundation continues to produce much high-quality work with the most recent study on plastic published in July of this year, which shows the crucial importance of using the circular economic model to address plastic waste and pollution.
In August a further impetus to move towards a circular economy came when the 22nd of the month was declared Earth Overshoot Day. Calculated by the Global Footprint Network, this is the date past which the world’s resources will be used up faster than they can be replenished, and more carbon dioxide emitted than can be absorbed by our ecosystems. This was a slight improvement on last year – but only because of the pandemic which reduced economic activity considerably, and Nature was able to breathe easy for a while, and recover to a limited extent.
It has become clear that globally, nationally and locally we need to focus our attention away from the linear economy where large quantities of valuable resources are landfilled or incinerated, and embrace a new way of doing things, which minimizes waste through careful design, repurposing materials into new products, and reusing and recycling as much as possible.
Nationally, this was recognised by central government with the launch of the Resources and Waste Strategy for England in December 2018. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/resources-and-waste-strategy-for-england
Locally, a similarly entitled document (*) was released by Cornwall Council in September of that year, which had a similar focus, and paved the way for the new household recycling service to be launched in 2021 – more on this at a later date.
Here in Cornwall many voluntary organisations and community enterprises in Cornwall have been embracing the circular model for some time, through repair and re-use in particular.
Charity shops and clothing bank collection points have been providing much valued services, keeping reusable textiles, furniture and electrical appliances in circulation to help local communities and raising valuable funds for charitable causes.
Repair cafes have sprung up in both Falmouth and Truro (although currently on hold due to the pandemic) and a Library of Things has recently been launched in Penryn. The Tools Shed Project is going well with local community groups benefiting from donations of unwanted and broken garden tools which are then refurbished in the prison workshops at Dartmoor https://conservationfoundation.co.uk/projects/tools/
The business community locally is also rising to the occasion. We have already seen the sterling work being carried out by the Green Waste Company in a recent article on our website, and there are others raising the bar.
A company based in Perranporth previously known as A Short Walk, has now rebranded itself as Circular & Co, and recently relaunched its highly-regarded rCUP as the Circular Cup, and brought its production from overseas to here in Cornwall.
Made of recycled single-use, disposable plastic-coated cups this award-winning reusable product ticks all the sustainability boxes
Other companies include Odyssey Innovations (based in Newquay) who specialise in making new products from recycled marine plastic waste, including the world’s first kayak made entirely of marine plastic https://www.odysseyinnovation.com/
Flexi-Hex (Porthleven) is short-listed for a national recycling and innovation award this December on the strength of their amazing 100% recyclable, plastic-free packaging products https://www.flexi-hex.com/
while Chaos Cornwall (Truro) is also short-listed for their food waste recycling initiatives
Transition Falmouth is producing an initial guide to good practice as the move towards a circular economy gathers pace and always welcomes comment and recommendations for inclusion.