Keeping stuff in use for as long as possible, at its highest value

ReLondon colourful illustration of electrical items

A circular economy is one in which stuff is kept in use for as long as possible, delivering the highest value it can, for as long as it can. So rather than making, using and then throwing stuff away (a linear system), a circular economy means looking at each of those stages for new ways of cycling materials and value back into the system – using materials and products again and again, in many different forms.

Circular economy explained

  • It’s about designing products for multiple uses, for easy repair and maintenance, and for easy disassembly once reuse or repair of the whole is no longer possible.
  • It’s about manufacturing products from non-toxic, renewable, recycled and recyclable materials, or using processes that design waste out.
  • It’s about finding more efficient ways to recover materials at the end of their first life and prepare them for successful second (or third, or fourth) lives.
  • It’s about creating viable business models of leasing or renting products to consumers, so your business and your brand can take control of the maintenance, reuse, repair and ultimately recycling of your product.
  • It’s about creating new ways to enable people to share products and space, minimising wasted resources.

And in order to do this we need to collaborate across the supply chain by developing B2B platforms and approaches that enable others to deliver in these circular ways.

To tackle the climate emergency, globally we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, and 80% by 2050. 45% of global CO2e emissions arise from the manufacture, consumption and disposal of products and materials, through the management of land and the production of food and goods (so-called ‘consumption-based emissions’).

We believe that a radical shift to a low carbon circular economy will tackle those hard-to-abate consumption-based emissions, together with rapid deployment of existing and emerging technology to decarbonise production. It will mean significant lifestyle and behaviour changes enabled by a combination of regulatory intervention and the adoption of circular economy business models.

A circular business model is a way of designing, making, distributing, taking back and re-using or recycling materials within your business. The five business models we advocate for are:

  • Making the most of stuff – using recycled materials to make something new, and/or minimising waste and making the most out of every bit of material
  • ‘Recycled out’ – capturing materials at the end of their first life and using them again for a different (valuable) purpose
  • Making things well – designing things to last as long as possible and ensuring that they can be maintained, re-used and repaired
  • Renting, not buying – leasing and renting products in order that the burden of maintenance, repair and recycling falls on the provider (rather than the consumer)
  • Sharing – getting maximum value and use out of underutilised products and buildings, vehicles by providing access to sharing platforms, such as Hiyacar, AirBnB or Nuw

We believe that cities are the engine room of the circular economy. Around 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and this is projected to increase to around 70% by 2050 – and London, a global city of 9m people and counting, must be a leader on the world stage in pioneering this shift.

Cities are where all the key actors in making change happen are concentrated: government, business and citizens co-exist in cities like nowhere else, and every policy-maker, every business and every citizen has an urgent part to play in tackling consumption as a driver of climate change.

We believe that London is already taking that lead, with a fledgling but burgeoning circular economy, where businesses and community enterprises are using innovative reduce, reuse, repair, rent, share and recycle models of working.

ReLondon is at the forefront of efforts to explore and apply circular economy strategies in a consistent way across Europe. We are one of eight partners of the ‘European regions toward Circular Economy’ project (CircE). The other regions and partners involved in this Interreg-funded initiative are: Lombardy (Italy), Catalonia (Spain), Lower Silesia (Poland), Gelderland (Netherlands), Creation Development EcoEnterprises (France), Sofia (Bulgaria) and the Association of Municipalities and Towns (Slovenia).

The CircE partners work together to exchange circular economy knowledge and experience, involve and engage stakeholders and build capability in local or regional policies. The overarching objective is the consistent interpretation and implementation of the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package (2015) across regions with very different social and economic profiles.

For further details, please visit the Interreg Europe website or email Andrea Crump, ReLondon’s circular economy strategic advisor.

Every organisation uses resources, whether that’s office supplies, furniture, uniforms, food supplies or any of the other many things that keep organisations operating. One of the first things which all organisations can do is look at how they buy those resources – so building circularity into the way they operate and collaborating with suppliers to do that.

We focus on five main areas: food, plastics, textiles, electricals and electronics, and the built environment. These five areas were chosen because they:

  • are major contributors to London’s current waste volumes and/or London’s carbon emissions
  • touch London’s businesses and citizens at multiple points in their lives, providing a huge opportunity for behaviour and systems change that can deliver impact
  • are rich in potential resource, providing real opportunity for new circular economy business growth

In other words: because they are a cause of the problem – but also a source of the solution. You can find out more about our five focus areas by downloading a copy of our Circular Economy Route Map or by searching for relevant content in our Resources Library

Circular economy resources

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