Zero Waste: What is The Circular Economy?

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What do you know about the term Circular Economy? It’s actually linked intrinsically to the concept of Zero Waste.

The Circular Economy definition

The Ellen MacArthur foundation defines is as: 

A framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design.

It continues...

Looking beyond the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital. It is based on three principles:

  1. Design out waste and pollution

  2. Keep products and materials in use

  3. Regenerate natural systems 

Eco & Zero Waste | Design out waste and pollution | Keep products and materials in use | Regenerate natural systems | Ellen MacArthur Foundation


If we think about the natural world’s ‘economy’, organisms consume (literally) resources, and then the waste products of that consumption feed back into the whole system, to be used again and again. As per this video on YouTube, which illustrates the point really well.

The history of The Circular Economy as a concept.

In his paper, The Concept of Circular Economy its Origins and its Evolution, Thibaut Wautelet explains more about when the concept started to gain prominence.

In 1966, Kenneth Boulding wrote a paper called: ‘The economics of the coming Spaceship Earth’, in which he argued that a circular economic system is absolutely necessary for sustainable human life on earth. He describes a "Cowboy Economy" (a linear economy) whereby the natural environment and its resources are perceived as limitless as fundamentally flawed, and which creates 

environmental impacts such as pollution and social impacts such as exploitative and violent behaviours. 

The opposite of this is the "Spaceman Economy", which (rightly) sees the Earth as a closed system, in which the economy and environment are interwoven into a circular relationship, where every output is an input into something else.

This shows true Zero Waste - what may be waste for one organism actually becomes food for another.

Recycling can help. But that only takes part of our waste and reuses it, and still some waste is created. Our goal should be a Circular Economy if we want to try to achieve true Zero Waste.

Personally, I hadn't thought of the earth as a spaceship until I had read this. But ever since I'd grown bacteria in a Petri dish in Biology class at school, I'd been hit with how our planet is a closed system. If all we do is consume and pollute, we will soon run out of resources and pollute our environment beyond survival.

What can we do?

I've often said that we can't expect to be perfect; and certainly not overnight. We need to make small sustainable changes in the right direction - and just keep going; and keep changing. But the manufacturers and retailers need to change too - arguably more. And we can use our purchasing and social media power to apply pressure on them to change; to design waste out of the their systems, and to truly give us Zero Waste options.

Let me know your thoughts. I'd love to hear them.

As always, with love from our family to yours,

Elena x

Elena Cimelli Signature


1. What is a Circular Economy?
Wautelet, Thibaut. (2018).

2. The Concept of Circular Economy: its Origins and its Evolution. 10.13140/RG.2.2.17021.87523 -

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