Circular economy, bio-economy and innovation by Roland Arnison

Circular Economy

The circular economy is a vision about how we make, use and dispose of products in a resource-limited world.

A circular economy is based on renewable resources – either grown or circulated within the economy. The circular economy has no wastes: only resources designed to be feedstocks for other products. Biological materials, such as food, timber and natural fibres are best recirculated through living systems. Technical materials such as metals and plastics are best kept separate from biological materials and reused at the highest possible value.

circular economy, resource-limited

The challenge has caught the imagination of big business, entrepreneurs, designers and educators who see that the resources, production systems, business models and consumption patterns that have driven the modern economy so far are increasingly no longer fit for purpose.


“The potential of moving towards a truly circular economy – where materials are used again and again instead of going on a one-way trip – is truly phenomenal.”

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Environment in 2014

In a circular economy, people have fewer possessions – they share things. New business models combined with a new consumer culture mean that businesses make their profit from supplying the function of a product not from supply of the product itself.

In a circular economy, new products are made from materials sourced from old ones: they are reused, remanufactured and recycled. Products are designed so that they can be disassembled, they can be repaired and upgraded, their constituents can each be recycled without being downgraded.

In a circular economy, the reverse logistics infrastructure to collect transport and track these valuable reusable materials are as sophisticated as the forward logistics currently used to supply our products to us though the supermarkets and on-line retailers.

In a circular economy, new bio-production techniques and recycling of biological nutrients provide new sources of chemicals, materials, animal feed and fuel as well as food.

In a circular economy there are no wastes: just a wide range of resources continually flowing through different products: multiple supply cycles rather than single supply chains.

This is a powerful vision of a new global economy that could emerge in response to the fast developing resource crunch. With the most accessible natural resources already extracted and the most productive land already in use, the traditional linear economy model seems unlikely to be capable of meeting the needs of a predicted three billion global new middle class consumers in the next ten or twenty years.