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Ellen MacArthur Foundation


The Ellen MacArthur Foundation works in education, business innovation and analysis to accelerate the transition to a Circular Economy.


Creating a circular economy would have a number of benefits for plastics which can be a valuable and circular resource. Jocelyn Bleriot, Head of Editorial at Ellen MacArthur Foundation discusses the role of circular economy.

The last 150 years of industrial evolution have been dominated by a one-way or linear model of production and consumption, in which goods are manufactured from raw materials, sold, used, and then discarded as waste. Yet recent sharp price rises, increased volatility and growing pressure on resources have alerted business leaders and policy makers to the necessity of rethinking materials and energy use - the time is right, many argue, to take advantage of the potential benefits of a circular economy.

Such a model offers the opportunity to move away from our "take - make - dispose" production and consumption patterns, by ensuring, through careful design and innovative business models, that technical and biological materials continuously flow, safeguarding valuable resources and restoring natural capital. As demonstrated in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s “Towards the circular economy” reports featuring analysis by McKinsey and Co, the economic potential of the model is considerable, with possible net material savings in excess of 1 USD trillion for the global economy.

By moving to products that are designed to be disassembled so their components can be recovered and fed back to productive loops and shifting to business models that favour access over ownership, there are huge savings to be made both in material and in energy inputs. For the fast moving consumer goods sector, solutions that involve the rationalisation of base materials, notably in packaging, provide pathways to move away from linear patterns in which, as it is currently the case, 80% of inputs globally end up as waste - which equates to a loss of value of about USD2.7 billion each year.

“The benefits of the circular economy can be reaped immediately, yet
creating the right system conditions through legislation and infrastructure
will naturally accelerate its large-scale adoption”.

The linear lock-in is weakening under the pressure of several strong disruptive trends, allowing the circular economy to emerge and gradually get to scale. Resource scarcity and tighter environmental standards are here to stay and will reward businesses that shift away from the “take, make and dispose” approach. Information technologies that allow efficient tracking of materials through the supply chain but can also provide readily accessible data about a given product’s composition, disassembly or remanufacture methods are also a strong enabler.

Moreover, the gradual change in consumer attitudes indicates that outright ownership of goods is not as important as having access to the service they provide anymore, thus allowing for the multiplication of take-back systems and leasing models. These are key when it comes to making it possible for  manufacturers to retain ownership and preserve the value of their materials.

The benefits of the circular economy can be reaped immediately, yet creating the right system conditions through legislation and infrastructure will naturally accelerate its large-scale adoption… Some barriers do remain, in the field of product design, materials science or lack of cross-industry and cross-sector collaboration, but the mushrooming of more circular business propositions - from biodegradable textiles to remanufacturing - confirms a strong momentum towards this regenerative economic model.


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