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Why The Linear Economy Should Exit The Stage

Industry and it's pollution, including waste to the river
Industrial pollution is expected to increase in emerging market economies with economic and industrial development

Source: Carlos Santos [10]

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Technological advancements have made material abundance more readily available than ever. This works to our advantage considering that the demand for goods has been rapidly increasing as a result of rising world population [1].

However, the darkside of having easy access to nearly everything is that it only serves as fuel to our consumptive lifestyle, a recurring theme in what is known as the linear economy.

Why The Linear Economy Should Retire

A linear economy follows the take-make-dispose cycle where we would collect raw materials, transform them into products, and use them until we throw them away for various reasons.

It’s a highly convenient process, but the environment is paying a hefty price for our convenience. This includes emissions of toxic substances and disruption of natural capitals such as forests and lakes [2]. Additionally, a large portion of waste is mismanaged during disposal, causing them to leak into the environment as a consequence [3].


Clearly, a linear economy is not viable in the long run, both economically and environmentally. Fortunately, there is an alternative approach, which has been gaining momentum over the past few years, known as the circular economy.

The questions are: what is a circular economy and how can it help us overcome our environmental issues?

What is the circular economy?

Recycle symbol represent sustainability in circular economy loops
Circular economy aims to build and rebuilds overall system health to benefit economic, society, and the environment.

Source: Morning Brew [11]

The circular economy aims to create a closed-loop system, which aims to minimize resource inputs, waste, pollution and carbon emissions, and it involves three main elements: closed cycles, renewable energy, and systems thinking [4,5]

1. Closed cycles

At its core, the circular economy aims to eliminate waste by designing products for durability and reuse, which would quench our need to mine for new resources along with the negative impacts that come with it [5].

2. Renewable energy

The circular economy avoids using non-renewable resources, again to decrease resource dependence and increase systems resilience. For these reasons, the system highly favors the use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind [5].

3. Systems thinking

Our economy is built upon a network of interdependence in which the actions of one player can greatly influence others. The implication is that collaboration between the government, businesses, organizations, and individuals are needed to build an effective circular economy [5].

What are the benefits of this system?

Dollar money represented as a economic benefit
Circular economy can reduce total annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2 to 4%

Source: Sharon McCutcheon [12]

Economically, the circular economy reinvents the economy by decoupling growth from the consumption of raw materials, encouraging innovation, and creating more robust employment. As evidence, the circular economy is predicted to generate around €7.3 billion in GDP growth for the Netherlands in addition to 54,000 extra jobs [6].

Similarly, the European Commission claimed that its Circular Economy Action Plan can lead to savings of €600 billion for EU businesses and 580,000 new jobs [7].

For businesses, shifting their operations in line with the principles of the circular economy can lower production costs due to cheaper raw materials, resulting in new profit opportunities. More importantly, implementing this change could also lead to stronger customer relationships, especially those who are highly passionate about sustainability [8].

The potential benefits of shifting to a circular economy extend beyond the economy and into the natural environment. According to the 2019 Circularity Report by Circle Economy, 62% of global greenhouse gas emissions (excluding those from land use and forestry) come from extraction while 38% come from the supply and use of products and services [9].

By designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating rather than degrading natural systems, the circular economy represents a powerful contribution to achieving global climate targets.


As previously mentioned, the circular economy requires collaboration, from the government to individuals. If we don’t take care of Mother Earth, then who will?


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