Circular Economy Meaning, Comparison and Model Explained

Circular economy is a system of commerce and industry that is designed to recycle and conserve resources [8]. This article discusses circular economy meaning, comparison, and model;


-Circular Economy Meaning: 10 Ways to Define Circular Economy

-Circular Economy Vs Linear Economy: A Comparison of Models

-Circular Economy and Recycling









Circular Economy Meaning: 10 Ways to Define Circular Economy

Circular economy is a regenerative socioeconomic model which works by repairing, reusing and recycling available resources intentionally, to minimize wastage and loss.

From the above definition, it can be observed that the purpose of implementing the circular economic model is to achieve a state of sustainability where the availability of resources is guaranteed. The alternative circular economy meaning below, further highlights this perspective;

Circular economy is a system of sustainable development that aims to benefit the commercial and industrial sectors, and to prevent environmental degradation, by using a conservative production-and-consumption approach.

Another version of the circular economy meaning, shows the role and general importance of energy resources in sustainable production;

Circular economy is an economic model that is geared toward energy management and energy conservation, with the objective of achieving energy efficiency in production and consumption of goods and services [5].

The circular economy meaning that is given below, links the concept of renewable energy development to economic dynamics;

Circular economy is an economy that conserves resources by using an approach of repair, conservation and regeneration, so that electricity generation involves renewable resources like solar energy, bioenergy, geothermal energy and wave power, as well as technologies like solar panels, biorefineries, and wind turbines.

Below is another circular economy meaning, based on the concept of supply and demand;

Circular economy is a model of production and consumption that is designed to ensure that demand is continuously met by implementing conservative supply.

Provided supply is made to always meet demand without wasting any resources, various humanitarian problems may be solved. This is portrayed by the next circular economy meaning that is given below;

Circular economy is an economy that implements recycling and reuse, to address challenges of poverty, conflict, recession, world hunger and food insecurity, in line with the 17 sustainable development goals.

Aside humanitarian challenges related to food, economics, and social stability, issues of the environment can also affect the human population. The following circular economy meaning highlights this;

Circular economy is a system that is designed to meet the socioeconomic demands of society, while conserving the environment by implementing sustainable farming, deforestation mitigation, stormwater pollution control, greenhouse emissions reduction, and environmental remediation.  

One way to evaluate the effectiveness of circular economic measures, is by analyzing the products created. The circular economy meaning below highlights this;

Circular economy is an economy which implements sustainable production to meet existing needs with available resources, by creating products with a recyclable design and sustainable lifecycle, such as biodegradable plastics and energy efficient appliances.

The opposite of a circular economy is a linear economy. Below is another circular economy meaning, which highlights the basic difference between the two types;

Circular economy is an alternative approach to the traditional linear economy, which conserves resources through waste-to-energy conversion, sustainable production and energy conservation.

Lastly, the circular economy meaning can be defined based on technologies involved in this model;

Circular economy is an economy that uses renewable energy systems, artificial intelligence and smart house technology to optimize production, consumption and waste management.

Circular Economy Meaning: Sustainability, Conservation, Recycling (Credit: USEPA Environmental-Protection-Agency 2007)
Circular Economy Meaning: Sustainability, Conservation, Recycling (Credit: USEPA Environmental-Protection-Agency 2007)


Circular Economy Vs Linear Economy: A Comparison of Models

The difference between circular economy and linear economy is that circular economy recycles available resources while linear economy discards resources once they have been used [8].

This can be rephrased to state that the circular economy is sustainable and conservative, while the liner economy is neither sustainable nor conservative.   

In linear economic production, the aim is to create products and make profit; whereas circular economy aims to create products, conserve resources, and make profit.

Linear economy can be described as a “take-make-dispose” economy, while circular economy is a “make-use-return” economy [2].

Therefore, linear economic products are single-use products while circular economic products are designed for reuse.

In a linear economy, instantaneous profits are often high. However, in the long run, more economic losses are made than in a circular economy, because resources are wasted through use and disposal.

Also, continuous disposal of used products without recycling, leads to improper waste management in a linear economy [1]. This can cause degradation of soil, water and air quality, and can increase cost due to the need for large-scale environmental remediation.

On the other hand, circular economic approach involves soil conservation, water conservation and air quality conservation. Through recycling and reuse, waste management becomes efficient, reducing the cost of environmental remediation and pollution-related healthcare.

The table below summarizes the difference between circular and linear economies;


Linear Economy Circular Economy
Raw materials are extracted without replenishment measures Measures for replenishment of raw materials and conservation of environment are applied, such as reforestation and mine-site cleanup
Uses a take-make-dispose approach Make-use-return approach is used
Products are single-use and un-sustainable such as synthetic plastics Products are environment-friendly, such as biodegradable plastics
Poor waste management without recycling Effective waste management with recycling
Energy conservation and efficiency are of secondary importance One of the primary concerns is to conserve energy
Non-renewable energy is mostly used Efforts are made to incorporate renewable energy
Relatively severe environmental degradation Minimal environmental impact
Technologies are developed mainly for profitability and mass production technologies are developed for profitability, mass production, as well as resource conservation and efficiency
High instantaneous profits, long-term losses Moderate instantaneous profits, long-term benefits
Any rapid and low-cost remediation method is used Sustainable and environment-friendly methods like bioremediation are used
Agriculture involves practices to maximize immediate productivity, including extensive use of chemicals and bio-engineering Practices of sustainable agriculture like crop rotation and contour farming are used


Circular Economy and Recycling

Recycling is an essential and integral aspect of the circular economy.

Through recycling, the production-consumption process becomes sustainable, as resources used to create products are no longer wasted.

It is important to note that recycling is not an independent practice in circular economy. Rather, it is part of a series of practices that include waste reduction, material reuse, resource recovery and remnant removal. In some studies, this series is described as “reduce-reuse-recycle” [7].

Other terms and practices that are similar to recycling are; refurbishing and re-manufacturing. The goal of recycling is to reduce waste production to the barest minimum, while saving cost on raw materials.

In a linear economy, products have a definite (and often short) lifecycle, that ends where the used product is discarded. On the other hand, circular economy prolongs the lifecycle of products and raw materials through recycling.

This approach reduces the rate at which resources are extracted from their natural reserves. It therefore achieves the aim of sustainable development, which is to preserve natural resources for the survival of future generations [3].

The sustainable development goals 9 and 12, detail the need for establishment of circular economy. Goal 9 is concerned with building resilient infrastructure, and promoting sustainable industrialization and innovation; while goal 12 is concerned with ensuring responsible production and consumption [6].

Recycling in circular economy can take any of various forms. This may be in the area of energy development, where renewable energy is used in place of finite fossil fuels.

Hydro power plant and water dam technologies can be employed, to generate hydroelectricity while conserving water resources.

Bioenergy can be used, as a means to generate power while treating and recycling organic waste or biomass. These materials can be converted to biofuel using any of various biomass conversion methods, in a biorefinery [9].

Nuclear breeder reactors can be utilized to recycle nuclear energy and radioactive fuel.

Geothermal fluids can be recycled through post-use treatment, in geothermal energy facilities [4].

Lastly, agricultural waste and forest residue can be recycled and converted to organic fertilizer through anaerobic digestion, pyrolysis and composting.


Conclusion: Overview of the Circular Economy Model

Circular economy is a socioeconomic model that reuses and recycles product and raw materials to ensure profit, sustainability, health and safety.

The difference between circular economy and linear economy is that circular economy recycles and reuses resources, while linear economy disposes used materials as waste.

Circular economic model comprises of “make, use, return”.

Make” is the stage in which raw materials are recovered from their natural reserves in forests, oceans, rocks and underground reservoirs or deposits. These materials are processed, refined and used to make products to meet the needs of society.

Use” is the stage in which the products that have been created from raw materials, are used in a productive manner, to address existing problems. These problems may be in energy, electricity, construction, agriculture, and health, among others. Such products may be biodegradable plastics, sustainable packaging, tools and equipment, accessories, and energy efficient appliances.

Return” is the final stage of the circular economy model. It is the stage in which used products are returned as raw materials to the recycling industry, where they are refurbished or re-manufactured. This makes them reusable and restores their value and relevance for various purposes.



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3). Emina, K. A. (2021). “SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND THE FUTURE GENERATIONS.” Available at: (Accessed 12 August 2022).

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7). Slaveykova, V. I.; Duguesne, S.; Couture, P.; D’Hugues, P.; Sánchez, W. (2019). “Recycling, reuse, and circular economy: a challenge for ecotoxicological research.” Environmental Science and Pollution Research 26(1):1-4. Available at: (Accessed 12 August 2022).

8). Valavanidis, A. (2018). “Concept and Practice of the Circular Economy.” Available at: (Accessed 12 August 2022).

9). Xiu, S.; Zhang, B.; Shahbazi, G. (2011). “Biorefinery Processes for Biomass Conversion to Liquid Fuel.” Biofuel’s Engineering Process Technology. Available at: (Accessed 12 August 2022).

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