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What is the linear economy?

What is the linear economy? In this article, we take a close look at the prevailing system of production.

As you may have realised, most ‘stuff’ that surrounds us is made, sold, used and then disposed of in a similar pattern. For a considerable period of time, the global economy has been dominated by a linear model of production in which goods are manufactured from raw materials, sold, used, then discarded as waste.

the linear economy

And the problems don’t just appear at the end of the process: toxic spills, greenhouse gas emissions and other waste and pollution associated with mining materials, processing, manufacturing, transporting goods around the world, and even operating those goods during their life, all have consequences.

And it’s not just manufactured goods that follow this pattern. Take industrial farming, for example: huge areas of forest and grasslands, rich in biodiversity, have been cleared to grow food for an ever-expanding population. These vast areas rely heavily on the input of fertilisers and pesticides, derived from fossil fuels, much of which is lost through things like crop removal, erosion and precipitation run-off which pollutes nearby waterways. Each year more fertiliser and pesticides are required, yet still the world’s farming soil is becoming poorer, undermining our ability to grow more food in the future. And this doesn’t even take into account waste and pollution from the food that is grown and ends up in our supermarkets and on our tables. It is estimated that six trucks of food waste are thrown away every second.

We call this system the linear economy because the flow of resources (components, goods and even their embedded energy) travels in one direction. Value is stripped out in the process – whether monetary value or, say, soil health.

As you can see, the ‘take-make-waste’ linear economy is associated with a host of negative outcomes, and as the global middle class grows, so too does the likelihood of these negative effects increasing. The clean-up costs alone are huge

Yet, it would be fair to point out that the linear economy has also contributed to some positive outcomes, such as rising prosperity and increased health outcomes, particularly in the West.

How can we maintain the positive outcomes of the linear economy whilst solving the negative aspects? What do you think? Share your thoughts with others in the comments below.

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Circular Economy: The Big Idea

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