As the world looks towards a greener, brighter future, the circular economy concept is more important than ever before. Biotuff investigates the circular economy and how compostable plastics can play a significant role in ensuring that all products have an environmentally friendly way of being created, used, and disposed of.
What Is The Linear Economy?
The linear economy is our current and traditional production, consumption and disposal model. It’s the concept that we take something from the earth, make something to use, and then discard the product – cue the fossil fuels, the throw-away society, and overflowing landfills. It is called linear because it has a straight line from extraction from the earth, production, and finally disposal. The linear economy doesn’t consider returning resources back into the cycle.
There are four main stages of the liner economy:
Extraction – This is also known as the ‘take’ phase. When raw materials are mined, logged, or drilled from the earth to be transformed into everyday products.
Production: After the extraction phase, these raw materials are processed into everyday products. Also known as the ‘make’ phase. From refining to assembling to packaging and development.
- Consumption: Once the products are manufactured, they are transported to shops and sold to the consumer. Sadly, these products quickly become obsolete or go out of fashion. Other products may also break easily, leading them to be rapidly disposed of.
- Disposal: After this time, the product is then disposed of. Also known as the ‘dispose’ phase, most products will now end up in landfills or incinerated. Leading to the end of the product's life, that has detrimental effects on our environment.
There are many flaws in the linear economy. They range from encouraging a society with a ‘throw-away’ mentality to encouraging raw material resource extraction. The fact remains that the current rate of extraction of raw materials from our earth is entirely unsustainable. Other significant factors include waste and pollution, the economy's inefficiency, and the encouragement of continued environmental degradation through deforestation and climate change.
What Is The Circular Economy?
The linear economy contrasts sharply with the circular economy. The circular economy model emphasises the importance of keeping resources in use for as long as possible. Including recovering and regenerating products at the end of their lifetime – think 100% recyclable products and repurposing our waste back into the soil – think composting and compostable products. The circular model is seen as a more sustainable alternative, as it seeks to address many of the challenges presented by the linear approach.
It's all about abolishing the ‘take, make and dispose’ concept and transforming it into a closed-loop system of use, recycling and reuse. The approach is to minimise waste and make the most out of our precious resources. The core key of the circular economy is to keep materials in use and regenerate natural systems while significantly reducing waste and pollution. It is a win-win for our environment, economy and children’s future.
Some of the crucial ways the circular economy can work include:
- Better Eco-Designs of Products – This can significantly reduce waste and pollution by designing durable and, most importantly, repairable products. Also, having products that are 100% recyclable and reusable – think abolishing traditional plastics with compostable plastics and utilising glass and metal more that can be 100% recycled, unlike many plastics. Consumers need to understand that many recycled plastics also have an end-of-life cycle. Most that are recycled and made into additional plastics will have virgin plastic added until they eventually cannot be recycled and end up in landfill – cue non-compostable soft plastics.
- Reuse, Repair, Refurbish, Remanufacture, Recycle – It’s all about the big R! Looking at products at the end-of-life stage and analysing if the product can be reused, repaired, or refurbished into something else. Also, remanufacturing recycled products into something new.
- Regenerate – designing innovative products that can safely return to the environment after use – think compostable plastics and products.
What Are The Main Benefits Of The Circular Economy?
The circular economy has many benefits not only for the environment but also for our economy. Reducing waste and pollution while conserving resources and diminishing carbon footprints in production and transportation have enormous environmental advantages. While creating the infrastructure for this process will also help create new jobs in the recycling, repairing and remanufacturing sectors.
It will also have a massive knock-on effect on consumers as prices stabilise due to our decreased dependence on scarce resources. The circular economy also has huge social benefits for consumers as products start to be manufactured with longevity at their core value; it will prevent many products from needing constant upgrades, ultimately ending up in the bin with minimal usage. At the same time, local communities will flourish with repair and refurbishment shops.
However, it will take a conscious push from all corners of the world to make a major impact. But it all starts with consumers choosing products that fit the circular economy mould. We must seriously change how we produce, assemble, sell and use products. Society must shift its thinking towards supporting products that last and can be fully recycled or returned to the earth. It’s a complex change that needs to occur for the sake of our planet and future generations.
The Role of Compostable Plastics in the Circular Economy
Compostable plastics can undoubtedly be a key component in the circular economy. Allowing plastic products to be transformed back into soil. In a dream world, all plastic could be abolished; however, it’s unrealistic. Plastic needs to be utilised for hygiene reasons, particularly with food handling, preparation, and packaging. This is where compostable plastics can play a huge role in allowing for hygienic purposes while also allowing an eco-friendly approach to how we dispose of our plastics. Turning our trash into soil and keeping them out of our precious ecosystems.
Compostable plastics also reduce the massive amount of plastic ending up in landfills. However, creating more industrial composting facilities is required to ensure ease of use. Allowing consumers an easy way to dispose of these products and knowing they are being transformed into soil. The current recycling system is not the silver bullet for plastics. Most consumers are unaware that most plastic recycling doesn’t guarantee a recycled plastic product at the end of their recycling efforts [LINK HERE TO THE RECYCLING BLOG].
The great news is that communities worldwide are pushing hard for better compostable products and infrastructure, with many countries now implementing compostable plastic collection alongside food and organic waste.
Sadly, however, as the rise in the demand for compostable plastics erupted, so did the marketing ploy to trick consumers into thinking they were purchasing an eco-friendly solution. Greenwashing [link to greenwashing blog here] practices are rife in the industry, and it is up to the consumer to ensure the products they are investing in are correctly certified and compostable.
ADD certification logos here
The movement towards a circular economy will take time, dedication, and commitment from all sectors. Every person can play their part, as it’s essential to understand that demand is critical to change. If we all change how we shop, use our products and consider their end-of-life system, we can make a positive change towards creating a global circular economy and help shape a better future for future generations.