The circular economy is a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design. It is based on two key points: to decouple economic growth from increasing the use of resources, and to maintain the value of products, components, and resources in general as long as possible.
Another definition, used by the European Parliament, is that the circular 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. This way, the life cycle of products is extended.
The circular economy builds a model in which resource consumption is kept within the boundaries of the planetary capacity. The current system of production is not respecting this limit. Moving towards a more circular economy could deliver benefits such as reducing pressure on the environment, improving the security of the supply of raw materials, increasing competitiveness, stimulating innovation, boosting economic growth (an additional 0.5% of gross domestic product), and creating jobs (700,000 jobs in the EU alone by 2030) (EEA, 2022).
There are 5 main schools of thinking with different approaches to circularity, most of them created in the second half of the 20th Century:
Biomimicry: it is inspired by the solutions that nature provides. It is applied in construction, production, design, etc. Its main representative is Janine M. Benyus, with her book Biomimicry (1998).
Cradle-to cradle: its aim is to design and to manufacture products in a way that minimises their impact throughout their life cycle. The representatives are Michael Braungart and William McDonough with their book Cradle to Credle (2002). They have created a certificate for those products.
Industrial Ecology: It studies the flows of materials and energy in consumption and industrial activities; analyzing their effects on the environment and the influences of economic, political, regulatory, and social factors. Some of the main exponents are Ayres and Simonis, through their book Industrial Metabolism (1994).
Regenerative Design: it deals with systems and ecosystems designed to create environments without waste. It is applied to the urban environment, industry, economy, and social systems. The main representative is John T. Lyle, with his book Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development (1994).
Blue Economy: It is inspired by solutions based on nature, mainly in physics. It seeks the efficiency of the systems, questioning the productive resources and trying to eliminate residues from its inception. The main representative is Gunter Pauli with his book: The Blue Economy (2000).