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Is that a circular economy?

· Opinion,Business

I feel like the meaning of the circular economy has shifted. Or perhaps I didn't understand it correctly in the first place. To me, it means that whatever you create comes from nature, and can return to nature fully and without causing harm. In an ideal world, this cycle wouldn't even be neutral, it would be net positive. Imagine if you bought one of your regular products knowing that at the end of its life it will be food for the earth, rather than just another addition to our overflowing landfills or burnt up releasing noxious gases and taking up precious energy. If you knew that its intrinsic value could be returned to the earth, ready to be used again.

We live in a very linear world – take, make, waste. This can't continue, we don't have enough resources to take indefinitely, and this planet cannot absorb the waste of the type and quantity we are producing. The circular economy to me is a vital part of the process of moving towards responsible product design, production and consumption. It's the (only?) answer to the survival of the human race and is the purest form of sustainability.

But the new circular economy isn't my circular economy. It's been twisted to mean 'use products and materials as much as you can before you discard them', 'try not to waste too much energy in the production process', 'reduce your environmental impact at end of life'. That's not circular, that's something else in-between. That's business done better, but not business done best.

I'm worried that by taking something as pure as the idea of the circular economy and twisting it to be a compromise we are almost missing the point. Yes it's idealistic and it's hard to do. Yes it will be costly for businesses in the short term to medium term, and will require consumer compromise. But without lofty aspirations, what are we going to strive for? Don't we run the risk of settling for the slightly-easier middle ground because we've decided that it's the best we can do?

The stage we are in at the moment is important, and the work that individuals and businesses are doing in this middle ground is vital to innovation and change. I just don't think we should call silver, "gold". Let the circular economy be truly circular, and let's call the current drive for change something else.

Name suggestions on a postcard please.

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