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What the Heck is a Circular Economy?

What's a circular economy? Was that covered when I dozed off during economics class? (No. At least, not in the 90's.) Is it related to the "Circle of Life" that Mufasa talks about in the Lion King? (Closer.) Does it even involve the economy? (Most certainly,)

I like to think of circular economy as an approach where we design and produce in a way that materials never become waste. If you think of most production today it goes like this:

This is considered a linear approach. A circular approach would look something like this:

What are the benefits of this? We use less resources (water, energy, chemicals) to mine raw materials, we use less raw materials, we reduce landfill waste and pollution, and we restore the planet at a faster rate than we degrade it. Plus, it's fun. No one seems to talk about that part! I have a blast figuring out how to piece together jeans in just the right way to create a beautiful apron.

Think of the satisfaction associated with restoring an old piece of furniture, sewing a button on your favorite shirt, or fixing that old lawn mower for a few more spins around your yard. Can you imagine the joy, creativity, and job satisfaction infused into an engineer that gets to apply their brain power to solving a problem, like how we can design a cell phone so each part can be easily reused or recycled at the end of its life? Humans can dream up so many amazing things, we're certainly capable of creating a circular economy. With creativity, caring, and cooperation. The 3 C's of a Circular Economy. Catchy, right? Can I make that a thing?

So, how are you part of the circular economy? Well, I'm assuming you at least live on this planet (if not, your planet must be extremely boring if you're reading this blog and I'm sorry for you). And you probably are a consumer of some sort, unless you are a 100% recluse living entirely off the land, in which case you likely have an appreciation for nature. That means you're in the circle!!

If you want to get involved, you can. Buy higher quality items that last longer, shop second hand, fix stuff that is broken rather than throw it away, support businesses that are trying to reduce waste, recycle, compost, maintain what you have so it stays in good condition, donate stuff to people and places you know can use it, downcycle (did anyone else's parents turn used underwear into rags? Yikes.), upcycle, and read a little bit more about it. If you own a business, you can do the same things, plus design your business model around circular economy principles.

If you want to learn more there is a cool story about Ellen, a woman that sailed alone for 71 days and began to think about how we're all interconnected (see? That Lion King reference is coming into play), living in a fragile ecosystem with limited resources. She had other deep thoughts and a desire to make a difference, and it led to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation where you can find a way better article than this about the circular economy.

What's that old Italian proverb? Something like "Don't let perfection be the enemy of good." We don't have to get there all at once or be perfect to make progress. But we can start now.

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