|Earthshot Prize Expert Advisor; Chief Strategy Officer of Closed Loop Partners, LLC and CLP Circular Services, LLC
Today, the circular economy has reached a tipping point, with multiple factors bringing ‘zero waste’ to the top of sustainability priorities. Before we dig into the opportunity, let’s first understand what a circular economy is and how it differs from our current way of producing and consuming “stuff.”
Right now, our so-called “linear” economy is based on a ‘take-make-waste’ model: we TAKE natural resources to MAKE products and when we’re done using them, often just once, we dispose of them as WASTE. Allowing valuable products and materials to simply be disposed of rather than reused is inherently wasteful.
In contrast, a circular economy aims to remove the concept of waste altogether. By reducing the number of materials used, keeping those we use in circulation for as long as possible through repair, reuse or recycling, steering away from toxic or non-recyclable materials, and allowing nature to regenerate, we can move toward a ‘take-make-take-make-take-make’ model.
So why should we be excited about the circular economy?
Read on for my top three reasons
Too often today, “waste” is created by prematurely throwing away products that have a lot more use in them. Often these materials are disposed of in the environment or burned, or we pay to dump them in landfills, resulting in harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly half of global waste (44%) is food and organics, 17% is paper and 12% is plastic – all materials that could be reused in some way.
Alongside material reduction and reuse, one of the most economically attractive ways to keep materials in circulation is through robust recycling. Ideally, these materials are collected, sorted and re-manufactured as locally as possible.
One great example is how New York City recycles paper. Used paper products (including pizza boxes!) are collected by the Department of Sanitation, sorted at a Closed Loop Partners Circular Services facility in Brooklyn, and transformed back into paper products by Pratt Industries. This is a fully circular system in one city, giving valuable materials another life and keeping them out of landfills!
Another example is the clothes we wear – currently less than 1% is recycled at end-of-use. However, companies like By Rotation and For Days aim to keep our used clothing in circulation through innovative peer-to-peer models and take-back programs.
Extracting natural resources to make all the things we consume around the world is a key part of our ‘linear economy.’ This extraction alone is responsible for “53% of the world’s carbon emissions” and “more than 80% of biodiversity loss,” according to a study done by UN Environment.
When we use products longer and turn them into new products at end-of-use, we prevent the need for unnecessary and harmful extraction.
Consider the electronics that we use every day. We throw away over 50 million tonnes of these goods – worth over $62 billion – every year, including rare earth minerals, gold and copper. Thankfully, we are starting to see many companies like Apple taking responsibility and offering free recycling services for consumer electronics. Other companies, such as ERI, offer an electronics collection and repurposing service across the United States, preparing products for another life and reducing the need for extraction of natural resources.
Billions of people do not have access to clean cooking or adequate access to sanitation. At the same time, a valuable and sustainable source of energy – organic waste – is thrown away into the surrounding environment, impacting delicate ecosystems and polluting the waterways many communities rely heavily on.
There are, however, many natural circular solutions that can turn organic waste (including things like food scraps and human waste) into valuable, accessible products. For example, 2021 Earthshot Prize Finalist Sanergy collects sanitation and kitchen waste across Nairobi and uses fly larvae to convert it into agricultural fertilizer and animal feed. HomeBiogas, on the other hand, provides equipment you can use in your own homes and communities to turn leftover food scraps and human waste into fuel for cooking or heating water.
By removing our dependence on extraction and keeping materials in use for as long as possible, a circular economy offers fantastic opportunities to achieve our collective social and environmental goals whilst tackling the wasteful and harmful emissions tied to the extraction, processing, manufacturing and landfilling of goods.
In doing so, this generates new economic value, builds local resilience and spurs innovation.
And the good news is many companies and cities – including 2021 Earthshot Prize Winner the City of Milan and 2022 Finalist the City of Amsterdam – that champion circular business models are rapidly gaining popularity.
By seizing the momentum seen today to scale a truly circular economy, we can accelerate our journey toward a sustainable and prosperous future and achieve our collective Earthshot goals.
HomeBiogas is a portfolio company of both Closed Loop Venture Fund, LP and Closed Loop Venture Fund II, LP; CLP Circular Services, LLC and Closed Loop Partners, LLC are also direct investors in HomeBiogas. For Days is a portfolio company of Closed Loop Venture Fund, LP. By Rotation is a portfolio company of Closed Loop Venture Fund II, LP. ERI is a portfolio company of Closed Loop Leadership Fund, LP.
Learn more about our incredible innovators helping to build a world where nothing goes to waste, where the leftovers from one process become the raw materials of the next.