What does ‘circular economy’ mean?

Ideas like ‘circular economy’, ‘cradle-to-cradle’ and ‘closed-loop systems’ have been gaining popularity these past few years as alternative economic systems that could keep up with our growth. The question then becomes: how can we make the most of our resources and keep them in the loop for as long as possible, without causing waste?


Whereas the debate used to be dominated by fears of scarcity and the idea that putting the brakes on consumerism would impede our economic growth, the circular economy generates ideas and opportunities to create value with other business strategies.


‘Planned obsolescence’ has become an important business strategy to ensure sufficient consumption by deliberately shortening product lifecycles. This strategy was introduced during the industrial revolution to crank up the economy and to keep the factories running at full capacity.

Planned obsolescence works in two ways:

  • Technological obsolescence: products are especially designed to wear out or to break relatively quickly.
  • Stylistic obsolescence (the exact opposite of timeless design): an object that still functions perfectly well seems to be in need of replacement simply because it has ‘gone out of fashion’.

The circular economy is everything planned obsolescence is not, for instance embracing the principle of ‘longevity by intention’. The idea is for biological streams to return to nature, and for technical (synthetic, man-made) components to be kept in the loop, without causing damage or waste.

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