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Circular Economy

What are boundary conditions for a circular economy?

To successfully drop the circular economy in the Netherlands there are certain conditions where you should focus on. This can be summarized in three principles (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015a)

1. Conservation of natural capital

A circular economy is only successful when it decreases climate change and depletion of resources. Instead, it should have a positive impact on our ecosystem. This means that natural capital, should be maintained and strengthened by using the available non-renewable resources with care, and balancing the use of renewable raw materials within the limits of what our ecosystem can handle.

This can be realized by:

  • Dematerialisation: Replace products, when possible, with a service (product service systems).
  • Smart materials: Choose materials that last and processes that consume little and renewable energy.
  • Facilitate ecosystems: Ecosystems are balanced by extracting and introducing nutirnets ate the right place and the right time.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015a, p.5

2. Optimization of cycles

In order to maximize the yield of the circular economy, it is important to optimize the completion of the cycles. This means that products and components are used as often and as long as possible, that they are designed to last, to be repairable, and that they are easy to disassemble for recycling.

In addition, products are designed to provide more functionality with less material to more people. This means:

  • That products are designed with less material (dematerialisation); to perform multiple functions (multifunctionality); or are replaced by a service.
  • That it is possible to make several people use the same product. This is possible through:
    • Sharing-platforms where products are interchanged and borrowed (see: PeerBy, Snappcarr)That it is possible to make several people use the same product. This is possible through
    • Business models where products are used temporarily and are taken back by the retailer, via lease models, product service systems, and rental services.
Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015a

3. Focus on system effectiveness

Within a circular economy, the focus should be put on the effectiveness of the system as a whole. The circular economy will only be able to live up to its potential when the complete system changes, by means of a transition. When the whole economy, not just the frontrunners, functions as a circular economy, the benefits will be fully realized.

To facilitate this, the harm of vital elements of our system, such as education, food, mobility, housing and health care, should be avoided where possible. This can be done by monitoring indicators such as land use, air and water quality, contamination by toxic substances and (noise) nuisance. Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015a

This results in a need for responsible decision-making, where the following elements are taken into account:

  • The connections between different parts of the system
  • Long-term consequences
  • Effects of each step in the life cycle of products
  • Impact on environmental, social and economic value