The circular economy: explained
The model for a sustainable future
The Government’s ambition to achieve Net Zero status by 2050 may leave many assuming that there is ample time to adjust our behaviours in order to make this a reality. However, the fact of the matter is that we must act now and pursue environmentally friendly processes at every opportunity to stand any chance of attaining this goal. Adopting and implementing a circular economy approach is one means of doing just that, as explained by Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association.
Before we can begin to discuss the circular economy, it is important to first understand the concept of a linear economy. For decades now, society at large has acted as a linear economy, following a ‘take, make and dispose’ pattern. In essence, raw materials are harvested from the earth, these materials are then processed and manufactured into products, and at the end of their life cycle they are thrown away by the consumer. For obvious reasons, this cannot be considered a sustainable model, as:
· The finite non-renewable resources within the earth are rapidly running low.
· Gathering and processing raw materials requires a vast amount of energy.
· An increasing number of landfill sites are required to store old and used products.
It should be clear then, that drastic action must be taken as we cannot continue in this manner.
A circular economy, unlike a linear economy, seeks to eliminate as much waste as possible following a product’s lifecycle. The model follows a cyclical approach. High percentages of recycled content and lesser amounts of raw materials are used to manufacture products and goods. Following their use by the consumer, these goods should be recycled almost entirely and used to manufacturer future products. If we look towards nature, no ‘life cycle’ will be found that demonstrates a linear economy, the human species is the only example to have adopted the approach. The critical environmental issues that we face today are the consequence of years of our own actions, acting as a linear economy.
However, by adopting a circular economy, we can counter each step of a linear economy system. Less raw materials will be needed to produce goods, the energy required in manufacturing will be decreased, and the resultant waste sent to land fill will diminish. We are now seeing companies beginning to adjust their processes to work in line with a circular economy approach, although, if we are really to tackle the environmental threats facing our planet, more must adopt change, and fast.
As we are all aware, the construction sector is a massive contributor to CO2 emissions and should therefore be making the utmost efforts to change this. Timber naturally fits as part of a circular economy, as it is the only truly renewable resource we possess for building purposes. Following its use, timber can of course be recycled. However, because in some instances timber is burnt following its use, some critics argue that it is more damaging than good – this is not true.
It is important that we are aware that for every tree harvested, five more are planted. Therefore, as those five trees grow, the carbon that they sequestrate more than makes up for the carbon produced through the burning of timber. Furthermore, the energy produced by burning timber is not wasted, as it is used to power our homes, schools, transportation, etc.
We believe that any hope for the construction sectors success in adopting a circular economy system lies in the use of timber.
It is very apparent that society cannot continue to follow a linear approach. The repercussions caused by decades of doing so are now being realised, with the environmental crisis we face today set only to get worse if we do not change. We believe that adopting a circular economy in how we manufacture new goods, deal with used products and – most importantly – build the places where we live, work and play, is a necessity for combatting the climate threat and achieving Net Zero status by 2050. We must act now.