The focus on the circular economy at the Verge 2016 was really uplifting to Jason S. Trager Ph.D., Managing Partner of Sustainabilist. The circular economy is about considering how an output of one process can be an input to another with the goal of eliminating waste.
In a sense, the circular economy is about going back to the mindset of the depression-era generation who fixed things, instead of disposing and replacing. But, it is more than that, as it is also about building things to be repairable and re-usable. Prager also suggests that the shift to a circular from linear economy is about being users, instead of consumers.
He points out that one manifestation of this change is the so-called sharing economy, where people use resources when they need them, as opposed to owning resources and having them sit idle much of the time (e.g. music sharing, as opposed to owning Compact-Disks). As outlined in this McKinsey paper, an approach where the supplier “leases” an asset to a user is one where the supplier has an incentive to re-purpose said asset at what would traditionally be its end of life. Prager points out that this approach can improve corporate profits, while helping society by eliminating harmful externalities.
Along these lines, some of the VERGE 2016 highlights for Prager included:
- One of the speakers suggested that for $6 to $8 trillion, the economy could be shifted from linear to circular.
- Another interesting talk was from two women who, while in high school, developed a method for recycling plastic using bacteria and, as the program describes, “turned their discovery of plastic-eating bacteria into an innovative, award-winning business model. “
- A start-up that, using water and electricity, scrubs CO2 from the atmosphere, turning it into petrochemicals.