Humans are increasingly impacting the planet through burning fossil fuels (via industry, transportation and our lifestyles), the destruction of forests and contamination to bodies of water. To mitigate (and adapt) to the increasingly severe impacts of climate change, it is essential that we transition from a linear economy to a circular economy. This will ensure sustainable economic growth and dignified working conditions while also preserving natural resources and reducing environmental harm.
This model is based on taking resources, making things and disposing of them when they become obsolete. The result is finite supplies are continually extracted, trash piles up and the full value of the resources are not realized.
Recycling is an improvement over the linear economy however, products are rarely designed to optimize recycling efforts. In addition, recycling requires the use of chemicals, energy (processing) and transportation. If no end markets exist locally, waste will end up in landfill or will be shipped to other countries. Out of sight, out of mind.
This model builds economic, environmental and social capital. It involves designing out waste and reducing pollution, keeping products and materials in use for longer and regenerating our natural systems. It is characterized by building solutions and capacity (skills, knowledge, tools, equipment and other resources) both locally and globally.
WAIT....WHAT'S WRONG WITH RECYCLING?
Nothing is "wrong" with recycling, but the very concept means that we have missed an opportunity to minimize waste and maximize value. In nature, waste doesn't exist because the bio-system is a perfect closed loop system. Humans are the only species that create waste that is external to the bio-system, and finding value in it can be both complex and expensive. It's time to develop our economic activities to reflect the natural environment; a continuous cycle where everything has a purpose. That is the driving philosophy behind true sustainability.
Transitioning to a circular economy represents a systemic shift in which recycling is a part in the overall waste reduction strategy. However, in a circular economy every step in the supply chain operation is considered in order to reduce negative environmental impacts and amplify the benefits.
In other words, recycling is good if approached holistically, incorporating the principles of the circular economy and processing waste into high-grade products.