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The two terms “circular” and “sustainable” are often used together, but does promoting a circular economy really support sustainability? The answer is multi-faceted, and it’s important that those who wish to encourage sustainability look at all aspects of promoting this.

First, we must understand what the two terms mean:

Circularity/Circular Economy: A model of circular production and consumption, where we look to recycle/reuse/repair/refurbish existing materials and products as long as possible. In essence, an item is made, used, reused, repaired or refurbished when required, and then recycled when it reaches the end of its usable lifespan. This recycled material is then reused to create new items.

Sustainability: The practice of being sustainable means to meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the resources available for the generations to come – in essence, looking to reduce our footprint on this earth as much as possible in terms of using materials as well as the emissions from manufacture and distribution.

Sustainability & Circular Economy
Sustainability – meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the resources available for the generations to come
A model of circular production and consumption, where we look to recycle/reuse/repair/refurbish existing materials and products as long as possible

Both are important aspects of working towards a more environmentally friendly future, but they don’t always go hand in hand – for example, if someone decides to recycle items such as pens or crisp packets that can’t go in normal kerbside collections, and has to drive a long distance to a drop off point, they may be encouraging circularity, but the drive in itself is not sustainable or resource efficient (especially if they are driving a diesel car, which emits more fumes than a petrol or hybrid model).

That said, there are definitely some circumstances in which circularity and sustainability come together, such as:

  • Environmental protection – when circularity comes into play with regards to reuse/repair/refurbish, there is less dependence on natural resources to make new products, including energy, water, and raw materials. This will help future generations to live sustainably, and also allow for renewable resource efforts such as tree planting and solar energy to give back to the planet.
  • Waste reduction – waste pollution is a big environmental problem that impacts a wide range of ecosystems and natural processes. All landfills “leak” toxic chemicals into the surrounding areas, so if we can look to reduce our waste by buying less and throwing away less, then we will promote sustainability by putting less into landfill and doing less damage to the earth. Recycling also helps waste reduction, as recycled materials are then used to create new items, instead of heading to the rubbish heap.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions – as we all know, greenhouse gases are warming the planet, and at some point, we could end up in a situation where our green Earth may no longer be able to sustain life. Whilst certain greenhouse gases do occur naturally, as a population we are adding to the amounts being sent into the atmosphere in many ways, including construction, food production, energy systems and transport (to name a few, there are many, many more on this list). If we can all move to lifestyles that encourage circularity and sustainability, we will be able to reduce the volume of greenhouse gases being produced by elements such as manufacture, deforestation, transport, and consumerism.

What can we do to encourage both circularity and sustainability?


It is important to consider all aspects of trying to live a sustainable life whilst promoting a circular economy, and there will always be situations when one doesn’t work with other, like in our example above of driving a long distance to recycle a niche item. It’s also important to realise that a circular economy can’t rely on one aspect alone; for example, you can’t recycle everything. Much as it is a good thought that we could rely on recycling to close the loop of a circular economy, in actuality this isn’t the case. The same applies to reuse, repair or refurbish; eventually, items become beyond reuse or repair, and at that point we have to think about sustainable disposal and replacements.

With that in mind, moving towards a more circular and sustainable lifestyle has to go hand in hand with common sense. The best way is to apply a practical approach; for example:

  • If something you have reused, repaired or refurbished has finally come to the end of its lifespan, ask yourself if you really need to replace it. Do you own something else that will work in its place? This can apply to all sorts of items including clothing, electrical goods, storage containers, furniture and toys.
  • If you do need to replace something, look around for a sustainable or recyclable alternative. That way, you know that it has left a minimal manufacture footprint and can be disposed of in a manner that encourages circularity.
  • Can you buy local? Not only does this approach help smaller businesses to survive in tough economic times, buying local tends to reduce your carbon footprint in how far you travel to buy an item (or how far it travels to reach you). You may also find that local produce is of better quality than that mass produced for bigger shops or chains.
  • Do you need to buy something new? Have you looked at second hand – or “gently used” as the new buzzword goes – alternatives? The reused clothing market is becoming bigger and bigger each year, and not only is it better for the environment, it is a cheaper alternative for many who are facing a rise in living costs this year.
  • Before you dispose of something, whether that be to recycle it or put it into the general waste, ask yourself if there’s no way it can reused instead. There are obvious examples here like cardboard boxes or packaging materials but being innovative can really help to prevent other items going straight to landfill.
  • Don’t overlook composting – this process is beneficial to the environment as it stops food waste being just that and gives a natural alternative to chemicals to help produce to grow. All food has a carbon footprint through growth and distribution, so using any waste beneficially as compost promotes circularity by giving something back to the soil and helping further produce to grow, which in turn is used to feed animals and humans.
  • Educate yourself to make sure you know what can and can’t be recycled. Sometimes items that look like they can be recycled, can’t, and vice versa. Other items, like cardboard boxes with plastic see through lids as an example, need to be broken into their separate components first. Does your local council ask you to clean tins before putting into the recycling (and if you don’t, will they end up in landfill?). Make sure you ask if you’re not sure.

More on this here: http://www.coolboxsolutions.co.uk/what-can-i-recycle/

In conclusion, it is apparent that there are definitely ways to live a sustainable life whilst encouraging a circular economy style of living, but care needs to be taken to ensure that one doesn’t happen at the detriment of the other.

It is also important we come together, as a nation, as a community, as a population, to save the Earth and provide a safe haven for the generations to come.