Climate Change and the Circular Economy
Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are embodied in the materials and products we use every day – our food, clothes, cell phones and computers, purchases and packaging, the materials used to build our homes. Extracting raw materials to make new products uses large amounts of energy, which comes from burning fossil fuels. Energy produced from the combustion of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide and other GHGs that cause climate change into the atmosphere.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that 42 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions are associated with materials management through the provision of goods and food produced in the United States. Reducing consumption, recycling, and composting leads to significant reductions in GHG emissions.
In a linear economy model of resource extraction, energy is consumed and GHGs are emitted during the extraction or harvest of raw materials, the manufacturing of materials into products, the distribution of products to consumers, and the final disposal of those products in a landfill or incinerator.
Transitioning from a linear to a circular economy reduces our climate change impact by avoiding the greenhouse gas emissions from extracting more raw materials to make new products.
A circular economy model disrupts the one-way flow of materials from resource extraction into landfills by recirculating materials into reuse and remanufacturing. A circular economy is based on reducing consumption, sustainable product design for recyclability, reusing and repairing products, and recycling used materials into feedstock for new products.