circular economy simplified
21 Oct 2020

Circular Economy, Simplified

The phrase ‘circular economy’ has been a common term to describe the economic system aimed at the continual use of resources to eliminate waste and help the environment. However, it is not the easiest thing to understand. We are here to simplify it for you in the hope that it could be something you can work towards.

Circle of Life

Let’s start simple; think of the human life cycle. We are born, we live, and we die. This seems linear and finite. However, our individual life cycles all fit in to the bigger picture of the ‘circle of life’. Let’s think in terms of Lion King for a moment as an example. The circle of life refers to various things. Life and death is a continuous cycle, as people are continuously being born, people are also continuously dying. It also refers to the way that, as Simba puts, “When we die, our bodies become the grass. And the antelope eat the grass. And so, we are all connected in the great circle of life”. Life goes on in a circular manner.

What has that got to do with electronics?

We can apply this thinking to physical products, such as mobiles, laptops, hair dryers, TVs, also have a life cycle. Their life cycles consist of resources being extracted to make materials, manufacture, purchase and disposal. Currently, the product life cycle is linear, as products are simply disposed of after use (see image below).

But this does not have to be the case. The time between the purchase of the item and its disposal is a bit of a grey area; it can have a big impact on the ‘circle of life’ of the product. Let’s take a laptop as an example. The average life for a HP laptop is 3 years, but this is how long the laptop will continue to run smoothly for without any repair [1]. If you get to the end of 3 years and your laptop becomes slow and inefficient, and you don’t know much about technology, the easiest thing to do might be to just throw that one away and buy a new one. Think back to the life cycle. By throwing away the laptop just because it is slow, you could be shortening the life cycle of the product. In turn, this could start the life cycle of a new product earlier than necessary. If you think long term, this will mean that more and more products are being manufactured.

What can I do?

Once your laptop becomes slow, if you were to repair it, this would help it run faster and more efficiently again. You could, therefore, get another few years of use out of the product. It’s easy to see that by doing this, you will be prolonging the life of the laptop. This will result in reducing the need of another one being manufactured. Furthermore, once you have used your laptop until it no longer works, you could resell it on to a company to refurbish it. This way you are creating a circular cycle prolonging its life even further and allowing the laptop to be reused again in a top-quality state.

By doing these things, you are extending the life of the laptop, so you are getting as much use out of it as possible and allowing others to use it too. Thinking back to the circle of life again, you are keeping the laptop in that circular cycle for a longer period of time, increasing the amount of time between being bought and its disposal and helping to retain its value. In doing so, you are helping to reduce the number of new products and new life cycles being created.

linear vs circular economy

What are the benefits to a circular economy?

There are two benefits to this. The first being that you are helping the environment. By reusing your products for as long as possible and reducing the amount of new ones needed to be manufactured, you are helping to reduce the amount of resources being needed to be extracted from the environment, meaning fewer carbon emissions are being released into the atmosphere. In addition to this, by selling products on for refurbishment, you are reducing the amount of E-waste going to landfill.

The second benefit is to your pocket. By using your laptop or other products for as long as possible, you don’t need to fork out lots of money for a brand-new one until you really need to, and even then, you could choose to buy a refurbished one which will cost a lot less. Further still, once you need to dispose of your used product, by selling it on for someone else to refurbish, you will actually be in pocket! No one ever turned down an extra bit of cash! Just think of all the things you could do with it; book a lovely staycation, a nice meal out with the family, the options are endless!

To summarise, a ‘circular economy’ is a way of saying we can prolong the life cycle of a product by simply changing the way we behave towards buying things. By using products for as long as possible and refurbishing items rather than disposing of them and buying new whenever is most convenient, we can help the environment and have a bit of extra money!

So, what are you waiting for?! As Mufasa said, “You must take your place in the circle of life.” Work towards a circular economy!

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