On the topic of climate change, the most attention to date has gone to fossil fuels, greenhouses gases, and renewable energy. But civilization can move itself far closer to the goal of a livable, sustainable planet by making a related, fundamental change: embrace the circular economy.
A circular economy is defined as one that that eliminates waste and pollution, instead a closed-loop system emphasizing reuse, recycling, sharing, and repair. Ideally, waste and pollution are cut out of the equation in the design phase, and products and materials are kept in use.
This is a dramatically different, but eminently healthier, more efficient, and natural system than the take-make-waste, linear-economy way of doing business that has dominated advanced countries for too many generations. As the Ellen MacArthur Foundation explains, millions of tons of plastic and polystyrene that enter the oceans every year is the result of single-use packaging. This can be replaced by compostable alternatives made from mycelium, from mushrooms, to cite one example.
Another example of the circular economy that is gaining attention is regenerative agriculture, farming and grazing that actually reverses climate change by “rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.” Regenerative agriculture “leverages the power of the photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle, and builds oil health, crop resilience and nutrient density.”
In October 2018, Circular CoLab issued The State of the Circular Economy in America: Trends, Opportunities, and Challenges. Transitioning to a circular economy is no small task, it found. It will require “the alignment of every process within the economic system,” including energy production, resource utilization, manufacturing, sales, collection, reuse and repair, and environmental regeneration.
But if fully 45 percent of greenhouse gas emissions result from the production of cars, clothes, food, and other products, can we afford not to make the transition to a circular economy?
The fashion industry, too, is undergoing a reinvention to a circular model that is based on the reduce-reuse-recycle mantra as well as efficiency, non-toxicity, and biodegradability. For example, the Make Fashion Circular initiative works to transform an industry in which less than 1 percent of clothing is recycled to a model aligned with circular principles.