The circular economy is based on four key principles:
Narrow flows—Use less resources
If we narrow flows—use less—the amount of materials used or greenhouse gases emitted in the making of a product or in delivering a service decreases. This can be achieved through circular design (material efficiency or lightweighting, for example), circular business models (sharing and rental models, for example) or using materials and products more often, thereby reducing the need for new ones (multifunctional buildings, for example). Of course, the ultimate way to narrow flows is to stop using unnecessary goods or services, such as excess travel or fast fashion clothing.
Slow flows—Use resources for longer
If we slow flows—use longer—resource use is optimised, as the length for which we can use a product expands. Durable design and materials, and service loops that extend product lifetimes such as repair, all contribute to slowing rates of extraction and use. Ultimately, we need to make the most of what we have, be it clothing, electronics or buildings, by applying strategies such as repair, refurbishing, renovation or remodelling.
Regenerate flows—Use cleaner resources
If we regenerate flows—use cleaner resources—fossil fuels, pollutants and toxic materials are replaced with regenerative and natural sources. This helps us maintain natural ecosystems. The clean energy transition is, therefore, also a circular activity, as is regenerative agriculture. Using regenerative materials like wood over toxic or emissions-intensive plastic or cement also serves this goal.
Cycle flows—Use resources again
If we cycle flows—use again—we make the most of materials and products at their end-of-life stage by creating a circular flow of resources. This is enhanced by improved collection and reprocessing of materials, as well as getting the most out of the material by creating value in each stage of reuse—for example upcycling rather than downcycling. To achieve this, products should be designed for recyclability (both technical and biological) and for disassembly, which facilitates both reuse and recycling.