What is 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.

Circular Economy Principles

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

In our current economy, we take materials from the Earth, make products from them, and eventually throw them away as waste – the process is linear. In a circular economy, by contrast, we stop waste being produced in the first place.

The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.

The circular economy is based on three principles, driven by design:

  • Eliminate waste and pollution
  • Circulate products and materials (at their highest value)
  • Regenerate nature

It is underpinned by a transition to renewable energy and materials. A circular economy decouples economic activity from the consumption of finite resources. It is a resilient system that is good for business, people and the environment.

National Zero Waste Council

In contrast to today’s ‘take-make-waste’ linear economy, there is no such thing as waste in a circular economy. Waste and pollution are designed out, products and materials are made to be kept in use, and natural systems are regenerated. Products made from biological ingredients return to the environment, and technical materials are designed to be continuously used, reused and remanufactured.

Accelerating Canada’s transition to a circular economy will require unprecedented levels of innovation and cross-sector collaboration to realize system-wide transformation. It will involve:

  • Design change at the product level to prevent waste and enable durability and reuse
  • New business models that re-imagine our relationships with products and services
  • New policies and regulatory frameworks that create an enabling environment for change
  • Behaviour change to encourage the adoption of new solutions and approaches

Materials in a circular economy follow a different path than those of a linear economy.

Circular Economy Initiatives in BC

Project Zero

Project Zero, launched in 2019, is setting the stage for the development of a circular economy on Vancouver Island. Through an annual business incubator program, they focus on:

  • Economic equality
  • Partnerships
  • Changing business as usual
  • Creating a movement that inspires
  • Advocacy


ChopValue, founded in 2016, is a Vancouver-based company which transforms discarded chopsticks into new products. They have repurposed millions of chopsticks into high quality, beautiful products ranging from coasters to tabletops to flooring.  And they’re taking their Microfactory concept to countries around the globe.

Repair Cafes

Repair Cafes 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.

Accelerator Program

The Vancouver Island Coast Economic Developers Association has a Circular Economy Accelerator Program for Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.  This is the first program of its kind for existing businesses in Canada and its purpose is to show businesses how they can use circular economy principles in a practical way.

Zero Waste and the Circular Economy

Both concepts share similar principles and goals but are considered different in some ways.  Click on the button below to learn more about Zero Waste or continue to the Resources below for more about the circular economy.

Circular Economy Resources

National Zero Waste Council Circular Cities Summary (2019)
National Zero Waste Council Circular Economy Business Toolkit (2021)
Ellen MacArthur Foundation: Completing the Picture (2021)
Ellen MacArthur Foundation: The Nature Imperative (2021)