Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Circular Economy Campus

What is Circular Economy?

Circular Economy is an economic model where materials are recirculated to eliminate waste and pollution. We can think about the Circular Economy as a series of Rs. The image below shows the Rs organised as a waste hierarchy. The actions at the top are best, while the actions at the bottom should be a last resort. We can group them together to get a more in-depth understanding of what the Rs mean in practice.

Refuse, Rethink, Reduce - Eliminating waste at the design phase
  • Avoiding high carbon and environmentally damaging materials and processes
  • Designing for disassembly
  • Reducing material use
  • Materials passports
Reuse, Repair, Refurbish, Remanufacture, Repurpose–Extending life span
  • Reusing materials and assets
  • Simple repairs that do not require many new material resources
  • Refurbishing items by replacing parts
  • Remanufacturing involves significantly less carbon than manufacturing from scratch
  • Repurposing something, giving it a useful function beyond it’s original intended purpose
Recycle, Recover–Last resort, to prevent resources from being lost
  • Some materials, for example aluminium cans are highly recyclable and the captured material can be used for the same application.
  • Many materials can only be ‘downcycled’ and do not make it back to the same level of use as their original application. This is true of many building materials like bricks and also many plastics.

Difference between Linear and Circular Economy

Currently our economic system is linear with only 7.2% of materials cycled back into the economy globally. (Circle Economy – Circularity Gap Report 2024). This linear system is sometimes described as TAKE-MAKE-WASTE. Take natural resources, make a product and then when it is no longer needed or functional, dispose of it – waste. In a Circular Economy we explore and exploit all avenues for reuse, repair and refurbishment before recycling and recovering materials as a last resort.

Overconsumption and Earth Overshoot Day

In the UK our consumption is so high that we’d currently need 2.36 planet Earths to sustain our use of natural resources (Global Footprint Network). We must transition to a Circular Economy to reduce our use of virgin resources by reusing resources already extracted. This transformation will reduce the environmental impact of our production and consumption and prevent us from exceeding the means of the planet.

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. We maintain this deficit by liquidating stocks of ecological resources and accumulating waste, primarily carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Earth Overshoot Day 2024 is August 1st, but if everyone consumed as we do in the UK, Earth Overshoot Day would have been on the 3rd June. The Earth Overshoot Day infographic is a great way to visualise our overconsumption around the world, and comparing the consumption of different countries from around the globe.