One model used to define an economy is Circularity. Between 2015 and 2021, the global economy consumed half a trillion tons of virgin materials. These materials are newly extracted from the earth. They were not reused or recycled. This equates to 70% more virgin materials than what the Earth can safely replenish. And it’s four times the global use of materials 50 years ago.
Our consumption has far outpaced population growth. As climate change projections worsen, we need to stop thinking about our material-use as linear. Instead, we need to look towards models that keep materials in use and treat them like the finite resource they are. This is what a Circular Economy does.
A Linear vs. circular Economy
The easiest way to think about a Circular Economy is to compare it to the current model: a Linear Economy.
In a Linear Economy, materials are first taken or extracted from the Earth. These materials can include oil or natural gas drilled and pumped out of the Earth to power your car or home. Cotton farmed to produce your clothes. Minerals mined to create your smart phone. Even the fish harvested to feed us. We use these materials to make products we need or want. In a Linear Economy, we discard materials when we’re done with a product. Consequently, we need to then extract more virgin materials to make more products. This is the economy we’re living in now.
A Recycling Economy is the next best thing. In this system, we create materials of equal or lesser quality and value when reprocessing some materials. This can happen one time, 5 times, or 50 times. But eventually, recycling degrades the quality of the material and it still ends its life in a landfill. This is though, a step up from a Linear Economy. We use materials longer. This delays the need for additional resource extraction. However we don’t currently have the technology to easily recycle all materials. Ultimately, a slow but inevitable quality decrease over time means those materials are still eventually wasted.
Which brings us to the Circular Economy. In a Circular Economy, we stop waste from being produced in the first place. Imagine a healthy forest. A tree uses nutrients and water from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air. It uses these materials to live and grow. As it grows it produces oxygen which humans and animals breathe.
Then, every year in the fall, the tree drops its leaves. Insects, fungi, and microbes decompose those leaves, and release their nutrients back into the soil to be reused by the tree. Further, as those leaves decompose, the carbon pulled in by the tree also releases back into the atmosphere. Finally, water evaporates out of the forest to collect in the atmosphere and come back down in the form of rain. The forest used all of these resources and other plants or animals in the forest can continue to reuse them. Nothing is wasted.
A Circular Economy operates similarly. Materials are returned, reused, repaired, and recycled indefinitely. The landfill is a last resort. Ideally, a circular economy completely eliminates waste. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines a Circular Economy by three principles:
- Eliminate waste and pollution
- Circulate products and materials (at their highest value)
- Regenerate nature
Circularity is the process of creating a cycle that reduces the demand on resources and energy, recirculates them, and recovers value from waste (Ellen MacArthur Foundation).
The 9R Framework (shown above) can help us prioritize our circularity initiatives. This way, we are getting the most out of each material. The best option is to Refuse or not use the material at all. But that can’t always be the case. So the 9R Framework offers 9 different strategies from Recovering energy from incinerated material (least circular) to Rethinking your material use to get more out of your material (most circular).
At Diamond Brand, circularity is part of how we design our products. First we choose durable materials so we can extend the life of our tents as long as possible. Secondly, we optimize our design and sewing process to reduce waste. In addition, we repair tents and create modular products so individual pieces can be replaced rather than the whole tent.
Our Revival: Tent Rescue project is part of our effort to repurpose your old tents at the end of their life. We’re currently researching ways to recycle our fabric. Overall, we want to create new textile products like insulation and rags from fabric that is too worn out to use. Basically, we strive to think like the Earth does: nothing is waste and everything can find a new purpose.
Circularity is one way we protect our Triple Bottom Line of People, Planet, and Prosperity. So, to learn more about our Triple Bottom Line and sustainability initiatives, check out our blog series: