The Circular Economy

The Circular Economy provides an alternative to existing economic structures. It is a system which is restorative by design, and in which economic and social prosperity are not linked to resource extraction and environmental degradation. The main idea of a Circular Economy is to extract the maximum amount of utility from the materials that we already have, rather than extracting new materials from the Earth.

Another important aspect of a Circular Economy is that products are designed so that they can be reused, repaired, remanufactured, and eventually recycled into new products that can undergo those processes all over again. Circular economies provide an opportunity for innovative businesses and technologies to improve product design, manufacturing, and remanufacturing.

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Circular Economy Definition

From The Ellen MacArthur Foundation:

“Looking beyond the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital. It is based on three principles:

  • Design out waste and pollution  
  • Keep products and materials in use
  • Regenerate natural systems”

From The National Zero Waste Council:

“The circular economy is an alternative to the predominant linear “take-make-dispose” economy of production and consumption. Regenerative by design, the circular economy keeps products, components and materials at their highest utility and value, at all times. In practice this translates into:

  • preventing waste through new and innovative business models or through improved design – either for disassembly or for longevity;
  • maximizing the continuation of a product’s life through enhanced re-use, repair or remanufacture; and
  • improving end of life processing and resource recovery"


Circular Economy Initiatives in British Columbia

  • Project Zero, launched in 2019, is a regional partnership for a circular economy on Vancouver Island funded by the Synergy Sustainability Institute in partnership with Vancity. The Project is a 5-year action plan to set the stage for the development of a circular economy on Vancouver Island. Through the Project Zero Incubator, new business ideas and start-ups will have the opportunity to create and refine their business plans and gain access to mentorship and other resources.
  • ChopValue, founded in 2016, is a Vancouver-based company which transforms discarded chopsticks into new products. They have repurposed more than 15 million chopsticks into high quality, beautiful products ranging from coasters to tabletops to flooring. In 2018 they expanded to Victoria, Montreal, and Los Angeles. 
  • Repair Cafés are operated throughout British Columbia by a number of repair-oriented community organizations. These events provide resources and guidance to residents who are interested in repairing their broken belongings, rather than disposing of them. Organizations include Repair Matters, Van Repair Collective, and Repair Café

Circular Economy Resources

National Zero Waste Council Circular Economy Business Toolkit: Steps to Starting Your Circular Journey

Released: July 2016

Summary: This toolkit provides guidance for businesses looking to move towards a circular business model. It covers three key area: Business Strategy, Design Innovation, and Stakeholder Engagement. 

Circular Economy in Cities: Project Guide

Released March 4, 2019 

Summary: This guide provides resources for urban policy makers, focusing on three main aspects of urban systems: buildings, mobility, and products. 

Delivering the Circular Economy: A Toolkit for Policymakers

Released June 2015

Summary: This toolkit was developed through a collaboration between the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the Danish Business Authority, and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency. It discusses the importance of a developing circular economy, how policymakers can accelerate the transition to a circular economy, and a case study of a circular economy pilot study in Denmark.

Released August 2016
Summary: This discussion paper provides a number of case studies of circular economy initiatives in Canada and abroad. It also includes a detailed discussion on opportunities and recommendations for the development of a circular economy. 

Articles and Documents

1. A Circular Economy for Plastics in Canada: A bold vision for less waste and more value; A Policy Brief from the Circular Economy Leadership Coalition; By Smart Prosperity (February 2019)

2. What we talk about when we talk about the circular economy By Carol J Clouse on GreenBiz (February 2019)

3. Getting to a Circular Economy: A Primer for Canadian Policymakers; Policy Brief by the Smart Prosperity Institute (January 2018)

4. Jurisdictional Scan for Circular Economy: Final Report, Prepared For the BC Ministry of Environment by Delphi Group (March 2017)

5. The Circular Economy by Walter R. Stahel; Published on (March 16, 2016)

6. Toward the Circular Economy: Identifying local and regional government policies for developing a circular economy in the fashion and textiles sector in Vancouver, Canada by Andrea De Paoli (September 2015)

Related Links

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

European Union Circular Economy Action Plan (March 2019)

Circular Economy Leadership Coalition