Coming round to a circular economy

8th November 2017

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THE world is round – we’ve known this for about 2,000 years. Greek philosopher Aristotle – and other educated people – had it all figured out.

And, more recently, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan proved it by circumnavigating the globe in a boat, disproving the theory that he would “fall off the edge” of a flat Earth.

Today, bearing in mind the often observed fact that many things in life go round in circles, we are moving towards living in a “circular economy”,

It is a “better world” in which the principles of recycling and zero waste are built in to economic systems to preserve resources and improve our lives.

And it is one of the most interesting concepts at play in the future development of the construction sector everywhere on the planet.

The principle behind the circular economy goes like this:

Keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them while in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.

It is restorative and regenerative by design and aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.

And it is an alternative to the traditional and wasteful open-ended “linear economy” – also known as “make, use, dispose” – in which materials, resources and their potential value are lost and the environment is treated as a waste reservoir.

So why is a circular economy, with a built-in tendency to recycle, so important?

  • It reduces waste
  • It drives greater resource productivity
  • It delivers a more competitive economy
  • It positions a country to better address emerging resource security or scarcity issues in the future
  • It helps reduce the environmental impacts of production and consumption

A growing number of Soben’s UK construction clients are beginning to embrace this relatively new concept,

The circular economy requires the rethinking of the construction model, thereby allowing the processes of design, manufacturing, construction, recycling and client ownership to extract the optimum value from a scarce resource.


There will have to be some paradigm shifts within construction in order to make the circular economy an every-day reality within the sector.

Take, for example, a product that has reached the end of its life. It should not be looked upon as waste, but rather as a source or raw material for a new product.

For a true circular economy to operate, a material or supply chain should start and end at the same place.

Another way to view this concept could be to eliminate a product’s end-of-life phase and consider it as an “end-of-effective-use” phase

That would allow us to look at the product in a new light – ready for re-development or re-tasking in order to give it another lease of active life in a different form – as opposed to being consigned to a landfill site.

Granted, this concept may not be usable in every situation and circumstance but, with some creative thought, it may produce opportunities for a circular supply chain chain that can provide community benefits for social enterprises..

One organisation that is promoting the circular economy within construction and with which Soben has recently had excellent interaction is Resource Efficient Scotland.

It helps organisations control costs by saving energy and water, reducing raw material use and managing waste efficiently.

And they are backed by Zero Waste Scotland, who are funded to support the delivery of the Scottish Government’s circular economy strategy and the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform.

So it looks as thought the world is slowly coming round to the benefits of a circular economy. The circle of life, indeed.