The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tragic effect on people and economies across the globe, revealing just how exposed our current system is to unforeseen dangers. The crisis has challenged us to rethink the mechanisms that drive society as we know it.
In the past decade, the effects of climate change have become increasingly more obvious, and momentum has been building around the need for an economic reset. The potential for a circular economy, rather than the ‘take-make-waste’ attitude that is underpinned by capitalist values in their current form, has become popular with both economists and sustainability activists.
Nearly 92% of the world’s resources are used only once, in a single product, before becoming waste. But these resources are not limitless, and we are soon approaching a time when the natural materials we use in our everyday lives will run out. Needless to say, the impact will not be felt equally.
A circular economy is a systemic and sustainable approach to economic development designed to benefit businesses, society, and the environment that we live in. In contrast to the current model, a circular economy is regenerative, and promotes reusing items to eventually stop the consumption of finite resources.
It is based on three principles:
While public health is top of the agenda, the current pandemic has made the need for a circular system more relevant than ever. Indeed, there is scientific speculation that COVID-19 is linked to the climate crisis; deforestation drives wild species closer to human populations, increasing the likelihood that viruses will make the cross-species leap.
With a circular economy, we can invest in what makes our socio-economic system resilient to crises by having fairer and more cohesive global supply chains. This would allow many countries that have struggled with accessing the necessary medical equipment to do so; and as this is a global pandemic, one country struggling means that it will only continue to circulate around the world.
We have already seen discussions around the widening of footpaths and the creation of more cycling lanes to allow us to get back to work safely. A by-product of this could be a reduction in fossil fuels used by transportation, which would improve health particularly for those living in urban communities that are already more at risk of catching the virus. Utilising green, reusable and nature-based solutions will improve public wellbeing overall; which has been proven to be a factor in surviving COVID-19.
Ultimately, the circular system is an inclusive economic transition that leaves no one nation behind. Not only will it allow us to live more sustainably: it has the potential to build the global economy better than it was before.