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What is Circular Economy?

By Sue Ide (

Have you heard the words “circular economy”? I took a certification class (1) on this business model in 2016. I was the only one in the professional sustainability community I belonged to that knew about it. People were focused on Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and did not know there is a business model which goes beyond the 3Rs. Nowadays if you are one of the c-suite at most companies (one of the upper echelons of a corporation's senior executives and managers), “circular economy” is a mandatory training.


“Circular economy” (2) is a business model aiming for a “zero-waste world”; a self-contained closed loop to recover material from waste. Nothing is wasted. Materials, once used, are transformed into another usable form. The 3 R’s are not fast enough to catch up to Earth’s capacity and ability to recover the materials we use. Businesses need to assist Earth’s natural material recovery cycle.


The current model of product creation and use it linear:

Take the raw materials à Use it to Make a product à use the product à dispose of it à wait for nature to decompose it but for what future use?


In a circular economy:

Circular Economy.png

“At its core, products and systems are designed that minimize waste and maximize resource efficiency. This means focusing on reducing the amount of energy and materials used in production, promoting the reuse and recycling of materials, and developing closed-loop systems that enable manufacturing and reducing products.” (3)


To accomplish this, businesses must redesign their products to be easily decomposed into reusable source materials while maintaining product profitability. For instance, poly-cotton blend fabrics used in clothing is very difficult to separate into raw materials. And they account for half the global textile waste (4). Alternatives must be found.


What can you do to support a circular economy?

  1. Buy in a way that encourages businesses to adopt the circular economy model by purchasing products for which raw materials are easily extracted. Example, a glass milk bottle is only one material (glass) whereas a milk carton or paper cup(5) is paper coated with thin plastic. The paper and plastic are hard to separate. (6)

  2. Participate in recycling programs, carefully and accurately following the sorting rules.

  3. Implement DIY circular economy concepts in your daily life.


Example: Give coffee grids a second life. Use them, in well dried form (to avoid mold) to remove unwanted smells in your home. They are especially good at removing the smell of ammonia. To use them, dry them on flat a surface, with occasional stirring, then place them in an open jar or Potpourri bag to put in a bathroom or refrigerator. It’s effective for two to three weeks. Or use grinds as a scrub by putting them in a dirty or odiferous container and shake it. Grinds also help remove oil from pans and dishes when hand washing. (7)


Overseas, some start-up companies create sustainable and biodegradable fabrics and shoes from ground up coffee beans. Coffee grind-based clothing has a cold touch, a deodorizing effect and provide UV protection (8).


And coffee grinds make a good base for growing mushrooms. (9)




*1 Delft University of Technology: “Circular Economy: An Introduction”.

*2 Elen Mac Arthur Foundation: “The Circular Economy in Detail – deep dive”

*3 Diagram and text from the Engineering Institute of Technology

*4  Fashion United uk: “Recycling polycotton, … may soon become the norm”

*5. Earth 911: “How to Recycle Paper Cups”

*6  Business Insider: “You’re recycling your milk carton all wrong”

*7 Healthline: “16 Creative Ways to Use Old Coffee Grounds”

*8 Eco World: “Fabric Made with Coffee Grounds”

     S,Café - fabric made from coffee

     Fiber to Fashion: “Coffee Ground Fibre – A Most Worthwhile Fibre”

*9 “How to Grow Mushrooms in Coffee Grounds and Cardboard”

     “How To Grow Your Own DIY Mushroom Spawn”

     “Growing Mushrooms In Coffee Grounds” 


About the author::

Sue Ide is an ISSP certified sustainability professional (

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