Climate Education

Circular Economy and the Role of Consumer Behavior

While businesses are the primary driver for environmental change, experts agree that individuals also play a key role in making new processes efficient and shaping behaviors that make circularity possible. Here, we explore why the behaviors of individuals sit at the heart of the circular economy and the actions we can take as shoppers. 

What is the circular economy?

A circular economy is an economic system that aims to eliminate waste and keep resources in use for as long as possible. It’s based on the principles of ‘designing out’ waste and pollution and keeping products and materials in use. In a circular economy, resources are kept in a closed loop, which reduces the pressure on natural resources, lowers greenhouse gas emissions, and creates more economic opportunities. However, it is important to acknowledge that even though these practices can significantly reduce plastic pollution and waste, all plastic produced eventually becomes non-biodegradable waste, which frequently ends up in landfills, or our oceans, and waterways.

Individuals play an important role in the circular economy because they can make choices that support circular processes, choosing products that are durable, repairable, and recyclable, and by disposing of products properly at the end of their life. Individuals can also support companies that have circular business models, such as those that offer repair and refurbishment services, and those that use recycled materials. 

By making these choices, the general public can help promote a circular economy and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Individual actions for the circular economy

There are numerous ways that we can encourage a more circular approach to consumerism, and proactive steps we can adopt that will become part of our shopping habits. One of the most important actions that we, as shoppers, can take to support a circular economy is to buy durable and reusable products which are built to last and can be used multiple times, as this helps to reduce waste and save resources. 

From clothing to tech or furniture, the less we need to throw away the better and buying better quality can help us reduce the waste we produce. Additionally, we can choose products made from recycled or renewable materials, which can help stimulate demand for these materials and promote a circular economy. For example, an increasing number of brands are using post-consumer waste to produce new products which reduces the carbon footprint of those items. 

Another way individuals can make a change towards a circular economy is by being mindful of how items will be disposed of at the end of their life. Investing in items that we know can be recycled or repurposed to reduce waste and minimize the need for sourcing new materials, which supports a circular approach and a more sustainable future. 

The challenges individuals face

Only around 10% of peer-reviewed articles on the subject of circular economy focus on the importance of customers and consumption, so academics have suggested that raising awareness of the issues to customers is the key to implementing circular business models. An effective circular business model relies on mindful consumption based on needs and a focus on affordability so that everyone can access sustainable products, which means businesses have their work cut out to make changes to how they target customers and what they offer. 

The transition towards a circular world is vital for the planet, but it’s not an easy path to take and requires collaboration between governments, businesses and consumers for effective, lasting change. Our focus for Earth Day 2023 was Invest in Our Planet and remains an every day strong aim of seeking to change attitudes and behaviors from governments, businesses and individuals for a more sustainable future.