5 Principles of Circular Economy Explained

Principles of circular economy are; resource efficiency, environment protection, waste management, economic profitability, health and safety.

This article discusses the principles of circular economy, as follows;



1). Resource Efficiency (as one of the Principles of Circular Economy)

The concept of resource efficiency in circular economy, relates to the implementation of measures to control how resources are used, and prevent wastage [15].

It can also be referred to as ‘resource conservation’ or ‘resource management’. Various resources are involved in the development of the economy. The goal of circular economy is to conserve each of these resources.

Soil conservation and water conservation are basic measures that must be taken to establish efficiency in the use of essential natural resources, in a circular economy [3]. These resources can be conserved by applying sustainable methods of transport, energy development, electricity generation, manufacturing and agriculture.

Because of the immense importance of energy resources like fossil fuels, radioactive fuels (for nuclear energy), and renewable energy resources like geothermal, solar, biomass feedstock, wind, hydro and wave power, energy conservation is an integral aspect of circular economy [11].

It involves developing methods and technologies that can operate effectively with minimal power consumption. Such technologies and methods are referred to as ‘energy-efficient’, and their conservative use of power is called ‘energy efficiency‘.

Energy efficiency can be achieved by optimizing the equipment and methods of manufacturing, construction and agriculture.

In terms of urban development, energy efficiency can be achieved by adopting smart house technologies and efficient land use practices.

Lastly, the implementation of resources efficiency as one of the principles of circular economy, can be achieved by conserving raw materials.

These materials include those used in manufacturing and energy production. Unlike the linear economy that is inclined to discard used materials, recycling can be applied in a circular economy, to prolong the lifecycle of raw materials, conserve their value, and increase their efficiency.


2). Environment Protection

The circular economy is aligned with the concept of sustainable development and sustainability [1].

Some of the sustainable development goals are concerned with  conserving the environment.

For example, Goal 13 is aimed at addressing the impacts and causes of climate change [12]. To achieve this, the environment must be fortified to withstand and override the effects of both human activities and natural hazards.

According to the circular economic model of development, profitability and sustainability must be simultaneous.

This means that while creating products and using resources to meet the present needs of society, care must be taken to prevent environmental degradation and resource depletion which can affect the ability of society to meet its needs in the future.

Air quality, water quality and availability and soil quality, availability and fertility are all objectives of the circular economy.

There are different ways by which these objectives can be achieved. In cases where degradation has already occurred, environmental remediation projects must be carried out to restore the environment and prevent further degradation [5].  

Preferably, organic methods like bioremediation should be used, because of their sustainability compared to ‘synthetic’ methods. Natural processes like biodegradation can be simulated using microorganisms and plants, to remove pollutants from soil and water [10].

In agriculture, soil restoration and conservation are important practices for a circular economy. Sustainable farming through cover cropping, crop rotation, drip irrigation, composting, organic farming and contour farming, is recommendable to conserve soil and water.

Facilities like water dams can be used to protect soil from erosion, stormwater pollution and flooding, while conserving water for later-use, during periods of high precipitation. At the same time, turbine-based hydro power plants can be built around such dams, to generate clean hydroelectricity.

In energy development, renewable technologies like efficient reactors, biorefinery facilities, solar panels and wind turbines, can be used as alternatives to fossil fuels. Because these technologies harness renewable energy, they can reduce the cost of electricity and make it more sustainable.

Renewable energy is also important for its environmental benefits, as most types of renewable energy produce less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.

When fossil fuels are used, their rate of consumption should be minimized using energy efficient technologies and energy management systems, to reduce environmental impact.

In industry, environment protection efforts include creating sustainable products like biodegradable plastics that can breakdown easily without causing pollution.

Also, waste-to-energy practices and biomass conversion methods like pyrolysis, anaerobic digestion, fermentation and hydrolysis, can be used to recycle waste into usable products like biochar and digestate for organic fertilizer, and biofuel for renewable electricity, heating and cogeneration.


3). Waste Management (as one of the Principles of Circular Economy)

Waste management and environment protection are closely-related principles of circular economy. This is because, waste management helps to prevent pollution and resource depletion [2].

The practice of waste management in circular economy, reflects how resources are conserved by prolonging their lifecycle and renewing their value.

A simple description of this approach is given as ‘make, use, return’, which is the alternative to ‘take, make, dispose’ that is used in a linear economy [13].

In a circular economy, the idea of waste management is to reduce the amount of waste and the rate at which it is produced, to the barest minimum. To achieve this, waste treatment, waste conversion, product reuse, re-manufacture, refurbishing and recycling are all important.

The process of effective waste management begins from raw material extraction. During exploration, mining and prospecting for minerals, fossil fuels and biomass, effort must be made to reduce the amount of waste produced.

This can be achieved by using efficient technologies and methods.

Also, the waste produced from these activities must be either treated and disposed safely or recycled and reused. This includes the use of forest residue as agricultural manure and biofuel, as well as the use of mine tailings are backfill material [7].

Organic waste can be managed through waste-to-energy conversion, which transforms such waste into useful energy, agricultural and industrial materials.

Carbon capture and storage is yet another form of waste management in circular economy. It is one of the natural functions of forest ecosystems, which captures atmospheric carbon during photosynthesis and stores it through biomass formation and carbon sequestration [9].

Other natural ecosystems like grassland and tundra biome, can also capture and store carbon in a sustainable manner.

What this means is that controlling deforestation, desertification and loss of natural ecosystems is an indirect way to manage waste in a circular economy. It also helps to highlight the link between environment protection and waste management.

Manmade technologies can also be used to capture and store carbon, although this approach can be expensive.

Lastly, recycling is necessary to manage inorganic waste and reduce the volume of such materials in landfills. In recycling, used products are recovered and refurbished or re-manufactured in order to restore their value and make them reusable.

It is important to note that the effectiveness of recycling depends on the method of manufacturing that has been used to create the product. In circular economy, care is taken to manufacture products that can be recycled and reused repeatedly.

Aside industrial products, we can look at environmental remediation, reforestation, revegetation, regeneration and restoration as types of environmental recycling, since these practices mitigate the effects of past land-use and restore the quality of the environment to make it fit for other purposes.

Principles of Circular Economy: Circular and Linear Economy Comparison (Credit: PennineFoxhound, Clonewayx 2021 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Principles of Circular Economy: Circular and Linear Economy Comparison (Credit: PennineFoxhound, Clonewayx 2021 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)


4). Economic Profitability

Like the linear economy, profitability is one of the principles of circular economy.

However, in a circular economy, the effort to make profit is combined with measures to achieve sustainability.

Compared to the linear economy, instantaneous profit is not a primary concern in circular economy.

The take-make-dispose model of linear economy aims solely to make immediate profit from products. On the other hand, profitability in the circular economy is based on the make-use-return model. While immediate profit may be relatively moderate or low, long-term profit is relatively high.

This is because the circular economy evaluates profit based on how resources are conserved. Reuse of materials which would otherwise be discarded as waste (through treatment, processing and recycling), is what brings long-term profit [16].

Another yardstick of profitability in a circular economy is the efficiency with which work is done. This efficiency is linked to waste management, cost reduction, resource conservation, environment protection, health and safety.

For this reason, innovation is an important practice in industries that operate within a circular economy [14]. When innovation is practiced, new and efficient ways to create products, consume energy and do work, are developed. These innovations save cost, and increase the value of time, labor and products.

An example of circular economic innovation is the modification of artificial intelligence to carry out tasks in manufacturing with speed and effectiveness [8]. Another example is research and development to improve energy technologies like solar batteries, general deep cycle batteries, power inverters and hydrogen fuel cells.

Ideally, job creation is a natural process in the circular economy. Due to economic diversification that comes with product recycling, material reuse, sustainable practices, integrated management and waste-to-energy, numerous jobs are created in different sectors.

Principles of Circular Economy: Profitability, Innovation (Credit: Mixabest 2008 .CC BY-SA 3.0.)
Principles of Circular Economy: Profitability, Innovation (Credit: Mixabest 2008 .CC BY-SA 3.0.)


5). Health and Safety (as one of the Principles of Circular Economy)

When other principles of circular economy are implemented, it leads to improved environmental and public health [6].

There are various ways in which this can occur.

Waste management, renewable energy, sustainable manufacturing and environment protection all reduce the risk of climate change-related illnesses, and health problems caused by exposure to environmental pollutants.

Carbon capture, efficient power plants and sustainable nuclear reactors are types of innovation that mitigate work-related hazards in the energy sector.

Through economic profitability, job creation and sustainable production, socioeconomic problems that affect health, like poverty, hunger and food insecurity are addressed.

Controlling environmental degradation through loss of natural habitats and deforestation, reduces the spread of zoonotic diseases [4].

Lastly, innovation in healthcare increases access to proper treatment for the human population, and decreases the incidence of health problems.



Principles of circular economy are;

  1. Resource Efficiency
  2. Environment Protection
  3. Waste Management
  4. Economic Profitability
  5. Health and Safety



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