Definitions


New to the circular economy? Here are some definitions we thought might be helpful when navigating our site.

Byproduct

Waste material from one activity that can be reused or even enhanced by another activity. Examples of byproducts include spent (brewed) coffee grounds, pineapple leaves, and leftover malt grains from brewing beer.

Circular Economy

A circular economy is an economic model that separates economic growth from the depletion of natural resources and accumulation of waste. The three principles that underpin the circular economy are: the elimination of waste and pollution, the circulation of products and materials, and the regeneration of nature. This is achieved by sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible.

Downcycle

To create an object of lesser value from a discarded object of higher value. With certain materials like plastics and paper, integrity is lost with each regeneration until the resulting material can no longer be used. Recycling as we know it in the UK is most often actually downcycling. Examples include transforming plastic bottles into polyester thread, and cardboard boxes into recycled toilet paper.

Greenwashing

When a company provides misleading information about the sustainability or ethics of their products or services, suggesting they are more environmentally-friendly or ethical than in reality. This can be observed in the form of conspicuous green packaging and branding, vague use of buzzwords like “natural” and “organic,” and concealed trade-offs, for example fast fashion garments made of recycled materials in exploitative conditions. Greenwashing is done in an attempt to capitalise on the growing demand for sustainable and ethical products.

Linear Economy

Currently the dominant economic model worldwide, a linear economy is an economic model based on the extraction of natural resources to manufacture goods that will ultimately be disposed of. It is also referred to as a “take, make, waste” economy.

Recycle

To reuse a material over and over again without any change to its original condition. This term is highly problematic because very few materials, for example aluminium, are actually capable of being recycled without any loss of integrity, yet the term is employed indiscriminately by companies. Overproduction of single-use items that are purportedly ”recyclable” has encouraged rather than deterred throwaway culture.

Upcycle

To reuse discarded objects or material in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original. Upcycling increases value by creating new products that can be sold and prolongs the life of materials, which in turn conserves the resources needed to make new materials. Upcycling is an essential part of a circular economy.