What “Circular” and “Closed-loop” mean

December 12, 2021 by Joshua
in Nature

What’s a circular economy? For those new to it, according to Wikipedia and sources within:

A circular or closed-loop economy is “a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible”.

It continues, “a circular economy employs reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling to create a closed-loop system, minimising the use of resource inputs and the creation of waste, pollution and carbon emissions. The circular economy aims to keep products, materials, equipment and infrastructure in use for longer, thus improving the productivity of these resources””

I’ve seen lots of meanings and definitions, but a couple criteria seem to clear it up for me:

  1. You can’t use fossil fuels. You can’t close a circle or loop that uses fossil fuels. You can’t put them back in the ground, nor can you undo their pollution without bringing yet more things from outside your loop.
  2. You can’t mine for minerals or other input. Again, you can’t close a loop with extraction as a core part.

These two rules clarify critical constraints, without which the concepts are meaningless. Recycling doesn’t restore things to before extracting, nor do nearly anything else.

They mean you can’t use solar or wind, which both rely on fossil fuels and newly mined minerals. They aren’t closed loop or circular. On the one hand, these constraints seem impossible to work under. On the other, humans lived that way for hundreds of thousands of years. Why should our advances in science and other areas make us less able? Shouldn’t we be more able to solve how to live without these unsustainable power supplies?

Sadly, I don’t see many projects that describe themselves as circular adhering to circularity. If you know of counterexamples, please tell me. In the meantime, I see the terms as other deception or outright fraud to promote unsustainable behavior.

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