Living systems have been around for as long as the Earth has existed. These systems work as a never ending cycle: Things grow, die, their nutrients return to the soil, and that nutrient-rich soil grows the next living thing. 

By contrast, humans have created a linear system. We build things, buy them, and when we have no more use for them, we dispose of them, creating toxic waste in the process. For example, a manufacturer will make a toaster out of metal and plastic, you’ll buy it, and when it breaks or you want to upgrade your model, you probably throw it out. That toaster will then sit in a landfill where it will take anywhere from 50 to 300 years to decompose. 

Instead, we should follow the living world’s circular system and adopt a circular process ourselves. By paying attention to products and the packaging they come in, it’s possible to create things that benefit both the planet and humans. 

For things that don’t biodegrade like metal, we can recycle the materials to create new products, turning the goods we use today into additional resources we could use in the future. By adopting a “return and renew” model, where components are made to be reused or recycled, we can reduce waste on all fronts. 

To a further extent, the very concept of ownership could be reexamined: If we borrowed products from manufacturers instead of buying them, it would be easier for companies to adopt this model of “return and renew”. Technical parts could be refused, saving commercial capital and biological parts would be recycled, increasing agricultural value. Products could also be made and transported using renewable energy, eliminating further toxic waste. 

There are already companies today that are beginning to adopt this new way of thinking, but it can’t happen in a vacuum. In order for the circular economy to benefit the world, everyone has to adopt this new way of thinking.  

Check out these cool ideas that utilize the circular economy: