Circular Economy EXPLAINED

| March 30, 2021

By Stephanie Hodgson from @MeetthefiveRs. on behalf of The Sustainable Spa Association


Our current linear economy is causing large-scale and sometimes irreparable harm to our planet and thus also to people and animals. Some of the environmental issues arising from this archaic system are: resource scarcity, biodiversity loss and mass extinction, plastic pollution, environmental degradation, global warming and climate change.

Some of the social issues arising are: poverty, inequality, job insecurity, poor working conditions, poor access to clean water and sanitation, and lack of access to quality education. One of the most troubling things about the climate crisis is that the people and animals with little or nothing to do with causing these issues are most often the ones that are the most affected. This is called climate injustice.

What does a circular economy look like?

A circular economy is based on reducing consumption, waste and pollution through better design of materials, products and packaging. It also prioritises reverse logistics trends and practices to ensure the return of those goods back into the system where they can be reused, repaired or recycled. These are the five Rs of a circular economy, according to MeetthefiveRs:


At its core, it involves keeping goods ‘in the loop’ for as long as possible, if not indefinitely. Ideally businesses or networks of businesses can create their own closed loop systems so the individual or group can eliminate their need for virgin or non-renewable materials, resources and energy. A circular economy will also look to regenerate our natural ecosystems and repair the damage inflicted by the linear economy.


Examples of the five Rs in action:

Reduce: Reducing food waste by creating a market for odd-looking fruits and veg (Odd Box) or by redirecting food surpluses from businesses directly to customers (Too Good To Go).

Reuse: Reusing packaging through distribution and collection schemes for high volume products like household cleaning products (SESI, Miniml) or upmarket spirits (ecoSPIRITS).

Recycle: Local recycling of plastic waste into high quality products like plant pots (Ocean Plastic Pots) or stools (Still Life).

Repair: Designing smartphones (Fairphone), tablets (HP’s Elite x2 1012 G1) and laptops (HP’s Elitebooks and ProBooks) so they are easily repairable.

Return: Accounting for the return of packaging to the original businesses so they can be reused for as long as possible (Abel & Cole, All Plants, SodaStream).

So what can you do?

There is no such thing as ‘waste’ in natural systems (ie ecosystems). One organism’s waste inevitably becomes food for another. Life on our planet has evolved in this way in near-perfect balance for millions of years and we would do well to take note. It is our challenge to find ways to transform our ‘waste’ into valuable materials for other processes and so remove the need for landfill and eradicate pollution.

Businesses in particular have a crucial role to play in making the circular economy a reality. This starts with looking at exactly what is going into your business and what goes out. Input can be things like products, packaging, energy and water. Output can be things like plastics, food waste, electronics, chemicals and the list goes on.

Our #SpaWasteNotChallenge is looking to tackle the latter: output. While we know it is critical to analyse what goes into your business and thereby reduce waste at the source, we thought it would be a good exercise to start looking at your current waste streams and how you might creately divert at least one of them from landfill.

To learn more about a circular economy, go to or


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