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A Zero Waste World through a Circular Economy- Is it Possible?

Are we entering a Zero-Waste World?

An article published on August 18, 2014, by Marc Gunther in Ensia discusses how when the economy goes in circles, everyone wins.

Accoding to Gunther, “Faced with rising prices for energy and raw materials, along with pressures from environmentalists and regulators who have passed “extended producer responsibility laws” in Europe and some U.S. states, forward-thinking companies are finding ways to take back, reuse, refurbish or recycle all kinds of things that would otherwise be thrown away. In contrast to the traditional “take-make-dispose” linear economy, which depletes resources, a circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. Inspired by nature, a circular economy aspires not merely to limit waste but to eliminate the very idea of waste: Everything, at the end of its life, should be made into something else, just as in the natural world, one species’ waste is another’s food.”

In fact, a full transition to a circular economy, where resources are reused efficiently, could generate savings of over $1 trillion in materials alone by 2025 – according to an analysis by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, McKinsey & Co. and the World Economic Forum. The question is whether we are moving closer to the circular economy — or further away?

Accurate data is hard to come by, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates indicate that recycling rates grew rapidly from 1980 through 2000, and only gradually since then. Disposal of waste to landfill declined from 89 percent of the amount generated in 1980 to 54 percent — about 135 million tons — in 2012. So the answer is unclear.

For a truly circular economy to be established, a lot of work is needed to change our social, economic, and environmental culture. As mentioned by the author, however, “In a truly circular economy, where waste becomes nutrients and energy is renewable, economic growth would be decoupled from environmental restraints. Companies could sell more stuff without generating pollution. Consumers could buy more stuff, without guilt. What’s not to like?”

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What is Ensia?

Ensia is a magazine showcasing environmental solutions in action. Powered by the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, Ensia connects people with ideas, information and inspiration they can use to change the world.