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Eliminating water waste is one way to create a more circular and sustainable model.

New research from Yale University encourages discussions on how to implement circular economy systems on a larger scale

Researchers at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, believe that circular economy systems are essential to our long-term survival on a planet with limited resources.

While some large companies, including Google, Dell, Philips, and Unilever, and a few countries, including China and members of the European Union, have already implemented successful circular economy systems, researchers believe it’s time to go to the next level: They’re making the case for more urgent and widespread implementation of circular economies around the world.

The Need for a New Economic Model

As the global population grows, with projections that it will reach 9 billion by the year 2050, so does the need for resources to sustain it. In the meantime, climatic changes are causing increasing strain on the food and water supply chain. As these new conditions set in, local communities and country governments are looking for a new economic model. Of several alternative economic models, the circular economy seems one of the most promising because it has the potential to do away with waste altogether.

What Is a Circular Economy?

In contrast to a linear economy, which relies on a “take-make-waste” industrial process, a circular economy aims at eliminating the need for natural resources, minimizing energy use and emissions, and eliminating waste. Since it is restorative and regenerative by design, a circular economy commonly uses renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels, reused or recycled materials instead of finite materials, and even recycled water.

For all these reasons, circular economy systems are considered much more sustainable on a larger scale in the long term than the current linear economic system. Companies can financially benefit from a circular economy and the continuous reuse of materials by reducing reliance on raw materials, the availability and price of which may fluctuate.

Circular Economy Systems on a Large Scale

While a circular economy system offers many long-term benefits to both businesses and the environment, transitioning from a linear economy to a circular economy can still be challenging. Yale researchers want active discussions to take place around the world to tackle three major points:

  • While circular economy systems have appeared at many levels, from individual businesses to large countries, there is a growing need to find ways to implement a circular economy in many more places and many more levels.
  • There is a need to identify the many potential environmental benefits when it comes to ‘material flows, resource use, and product design.’
  • There is also a need to identify all ‘opportunities for innovative business models, institutional change, and informed policy action.’

Reid Lifset, editor-in-chief of Yale’s Journal of Industrial Ecology and co-author of the editorial, said:

As the circular economy gains worldwide attention and as implementation spreads, challenges and tradeoffs are emerging. Industrial ecology is well placed to provide insight and guidance on the environmental and resource implications of this emerging framework.

Water Use in a Circular Economy

A circular economy makes sense in terms of reliance on finite resources, and no other resource puts human survival more at risk today than water. The demand for sustainable water resources is at an all-time high, and while a circular economy may not succeed at eradicating water shortages around the world, it could reduce shortages for millions of people by focusing on reduced use, less waste or non-revenue water, better storage, wastewater treatment, and water reclamation. As more areas around the world suffer from water scarcity, the need for these systems will grow.

Twenty-five articles on circular economy are available from Yale’s Journal of Industrial Ecology.