1 Model to stop consuming Earth: The Circular economy diagram



Did you know that every 16 seconds, yes 16!!, a pile of clothes the height of the Eifel Tower go to a landfill?

HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? I know we live in a capitalistic world, but we are destroying tomorrow for the benefit of today.

In this article, I will break down the Circular Economy diagram and how I will use it in my operations role to help Earth sustain resources.

If you prefer video, this is me presenting the same topic on Youtube

The Linear Economy model

Before I can jump into the circular economy diagram, a quick history lesson on how we got to this point today.

Our current society runs an unsustainable economic model.

This model is called the linear economy model.

It all originated back when the industrial revolution kicked off. The steam engine, created in the seventeenth century, allowed for the first time in human history to conceptualize mass production.

The new power generated by the engine removed human power from production and started leveraging the concept of factories.

We took raw ingredients, transformed them into products, used them, and threw them away.

And we got pretty good at it.

The idea is/was that resources are infinite, and we shouldn’t worry about where materials are coming from.

Our predecessors focused on scaling manufacturing, which allowed us to enjoy the comfort of many things these days. 

It was all about extracting and producing so people could consume.

At the time, it was a new concept. They only thought about how they could exploit resources, and can we blame them? I don’t think so.

This is why my grandparents and yours eventually could afford things like a dishwasher, a washing machine, or a fridge.

These things were an absolute luxury but were made affordable thanks to this model.

The linear economic model represents how we take raw goods like ore, coal, wood, etc… transform them into products like bottles, bricks, clothes, etc… use those, and finally dispose of them where they end up in a landfill.

Where is the problem?

The population grows, so we need to produce more to serve everybody.

Which means that we use and throw away many more things.

This cycle is never-ending, and we are consuming resources at a scary rate to feed the current population.

Many companies are only interested in their short-term profit and loss statement rather than what will happen to our children if we don’t stop this.

To add to my previous example, did you know that the UK produces 800 plastic bottles per minute, per minute!!!!, that end up in landfill?

Or that Globally we produce 5 trillion plastic bags?

Technology advanced at a silly pace in the last 300 years.

We have gotten much better at extracting raw materials and transforming these raw materials into products, and I, as an engineer, feel like my colleagues got lost in this process. 

Because we were the ones scaling this model, right? Without us, factories wouldn’t have been able to get to the point where they are today.

The Recycling economy model

But you might think this is not entirely true, and recycling campaigns are all over TV and media.

Thousands of people advocate for minimalistic lifestyles, moving into vegetable diets, and so on…

We are encouraged to recycle things, which is a positive step, but recycling alone will only slow down the earth’s destruction.

And when I say earth’s destruction, I mean it. What do you think will happen when resources start running low, and there is insufficient food or clean water?

Look at what happens with the semiconductor shortage. Is this not a good enough example of what an imbalanced supply and demand is?

We better get to Mars asap, right?

But there is a better way.

The Circular Economy model

If recycling on its own is not enough, what can we do? How can we turn the wheels around?

Imagine you throw away your smartphone, and instead of going to a landfill, it gets dismantled, and its multiple components get segregated for remanufacture.

The idea is that those materials could be returned to their natural form and serve as the basis for any other smartphones or items.

This is not exclusive. If a material was once part of a vehicle, the next time could be part of a bike, and in the next iteration, it would be part of a plane, and so on…

Suddenly, the need to continually extract ore or any other raw ingredient is tremendously reduced.

Look at the diagram below. This is the circular economy diagram.

This model is not only meant to look at the product waste itself.

The idea is that we look not only at the product but also at the ways of manufacturing. There are many other wastes associated with manufacturing.

Electricity, water consumption, gas, and so on… They are also inputs to the manufacturing process and should be looked at.

The mass manufacturing of Solid Oxide Fuel Cells is a technology that will revolutionize energy production.

The idea is that hydrogen is oxidized in a cell, producing electricity and leaving water and air after the transformation.

The super cool thing is that you can run it in reverse, so you put in water and air and get back hydrogen.

All of a sudden, we have a self-sustaining cycle of energy production. Hurray!

How I will use this knowledge in my operations role.

The example I gave is essentially an innovation, a new technology. But we don’t need to look that far ahead or be that smart.

From now on, I plan on challenging companies to make conscious decisions about the planet.

Very recently, I was involved in a project to improve the launch of new products in a company significantly.

Launching a new product involves many different things. 

There is a lot of planning, design review stages, prototype stages, and so on…

To leverage the model, I want to put the challenges early on in the first planning phase.

The idea is that we plan for sustainability and build it from the beginning.

The materials, the machinery, the packaging, transport, etc… can all be planned for sustainability.

I will challenge all team members to be more conscious about the planet. At the end of the day, I want to leave my son in a place where he can still live.

Before you go…

I am only a tiny fish in a big pond, but there are a few companies out there where sustainability is at the forefront of what they do.

One of these is Brewdog. If you read their sustainability commitment, you will find that all of these I have previously mentioned are possible.

Not only is it possible, but it could also serve as a marketing campaign, and I do believe in the future, we will be able to benefit not only Earth but also our pockets.

If we engineer efficient manufacturing systems to use 99% of the materials used in a product, plenty of business opportunities are ahead of us.

Imagine if we could increase our turnover while helping the planet. What a great business that would be.

If you want to read more about removing waste, but this time around processes, check out these other articles:

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