It’s a term that’s been thrown around quite a bit the last while: circular economy. What is this and what does it mean for modern manufacturers?

Also known as ‘circularity’, a circular economy is an economic system which is aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources. Each product at end-of-life becomes a new resource rather than a piece of waste: this type of system aims to redefine growth by focusing on positive society-wide benefits. In a circular economy, economic activity builds and rebuilds overall system health. This concept recognises the importance of the economy needing to work effectively at all levels- including for small and large businesses, organisations and individuals on a global and local scale.

There are three main principles within the concept of a circular economy:

  1. Design out waste and pollution
  2. Keep products and materials in use
  3. Regenerate natural systems.

Circular economy has become a popular talking point within the manufacturing industry, with many conferences and talk shows dedicating time to discuss this concept and how it can be achieved. Within a circular economy, companies prioritise reuse and manufacture products designed to keep resources in use for as long as possible. Within the sector of plastic manufacturing, proponents of circular economy have suggested that manufacturers design products with recycling and reuse in mind, embedding recyclability principles into their design process. Implementing a circular economy will ultimately require cooperation from all key actors in the value chain.

One mistake that manufacturers must not make, is assuming that circular economy needs to be a closed loop within each individual organisation. The waste produced by one company can become the raw material used in a different company’s production process.

The promise of a circular economy ultimately presents manufacturers with a number of challenges, and a number of promising opportunities. Events such as the K 2019, the Manufacturing Indaba and others offer manufacturers fantastic learning opportunities to engage and converse about this new system.