10 Mar 2020

What is the circular economy?

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 10 March 2020
Reusable Again Again coffee cups

Reusable Again Again coffee cups Photo: Jessie Chiang

Car sharing, reusable coffee cups, renting clothes - they are all part of what is known as the circular economy.

The concept has been around for a while but seems to be making a comeback on the back of consumer awareness.

Basically it means commerce without waste or pollution – products that last as long as possible, and that can be recycled at the end of their life.

At a time when many companies have as their business model in-built redundancy, that’s a battle.

On The Detail today Jessie Chiang talks to companies that are embracing the circular economy, and are surviving thanks to environmentally aware customers who are increasingly driving this with their purchasing choices.

James Griffin from the Sustainable Business Network says studies have shown that only about 10 percent of the global economy is circular and about two-thirds of everything produced goes to the landfill.

New Zealand, far from being clean and green, is one of the worst offenders – but Griffin thinks changes in attitudes are happening.

So does Pam Ford from the Auckland Council’s economic development arm, ATEED. She says the gains from thinking circular aren’t minor ones – a study it did two years ago estimated that introducing changes could save ratepayers $6 – 8 billion by 2030, and reduce carbon emissions.  

"I think circular economy is having its time now. I think sustainability and climate change are much more understood by the general public," she says. "You see all over the world markets are responding, so companies that are employing more sustainable practices are attracting more investment.

"If you think about construction, often organisations will take down structures that are already there …. think of all the materials that are within that area and think about how you can reuse all those products rather than just dumping them as waste. Similarly with food if you think about packaging of food, how you can redesign packaging so that it can be reused," says Ford.