Traditionally, we make products, use them and then dispose of them. Recycling aims to reuse waste products, therefore avoiding disposal for one or two more cycles.
However most recycling is what we call downcycling, meaning that the material loses structural strength with each new use. For example writing paper is downcycled into printer paper, then cardboard, then toilet paper. Plastic bottles lose their original structure when downcycled, making it difficult to recycle them again; eventually they have to be thrown away.
This is essentially still a linear journey from production to disposal.
The circular economy is when we truly remove disposal from our vocabulary, not only recycling materials a couple of times, but keeping them in play forever.
Think of the circular economy as ‘an industrial system that is restorative by design’ (Ellen Macarthur Foundation).
This is not an easy task, and it requires thinking ahead to disposal before a product is even designed. For disposal to become restoration, we need some forward planning!
As a consumer, think forward: invest in quality, use & wash products sustainably, up-cycle or resell clothes. Think about the future of the product you’re buying at the moment you purchase it.