As Founder & CEO of the Circular Economy Club (CEC), Anna Tarí, has had the opportunity to develop a unique perspective on the evolution of the circular economy movement, leading her to the belief that a transition to circularity is an inevitable process that needs to be accelerated. In fact, when she started the CEC in 2012 as a website, there was limited understanding of this concept. Now, the variety of circular economy actors seeking to make a difference have found, in this non-profit international network based in London, a web of around 3,100 members from over 100 different countries. The CEC has therefore become a platform for accelerating change and bringing together circular economy actors so as to establish a strong community; a place where they can share best practices and have an impact at a local and global level simultaneously.

What role does the CEC play in the circular economy?

“The CEC role is to provide a platform where everyone can play their part in accelerating the transition towards a circular economy. Our work includes: performing workshops in over 160 cities worldwide to start circular economy local strategies; having CEC Organisers at universities who work to embed the circular economy in curriculums; and supporting over 140 startups through free mentoring, giving them visibility and helping them find funding. Today, we are 3,100 members in over 100 countries, from professors and students to CEOs and journalists, and anything in between. Everyone needs to have the opportunity to play their part in the circular economy. I think the reason why the CEC is growing so fast is because we give people the option to do something with palpable results and connect them to a worldwide community of actors who are also playing their part.”

How can we speed up the transition to a more circular system?

“There are three key areas. First, implementing regulation changes along the lines of restricting and banning the use of toxic materials and landfilling, as well as incentivising products that include recycled materials and are designed to be repurposed. Second, by channelling more funding towards businesses that are developing technologies that facilitate material recovery and biodegradability, putting in place reverse logistics, and creating markets for used products and what we currently call waste. Third, building awareness through education and media channels so that more people understand that we can design a smarter system for managing our resources.”

What are the obstacles to this transition?

“The main obstacle, in my view, is the lack of markets for waste or used products and materials. Until we do not have a profitable market for trading waste of any kind (for example plastic waste), we will be unable to incentivise people and organisations to recover. In order for that incentive to play its role, both governments and companies are crucial. On the one hand, governments can incentivise the use of recovered materials in production, as well as facilitate the infrastructure and logistics for adequate recovery and conversion of waste into valuable materials. On the other hand, more companies could start looking at how to valorise the waste we have already produced and generate new business models out of them. For example, the beer Toast Ale is produced out of bread that would have otherwise gone to landfill.”

What more can be done?

“Governments aren’t incentivising businesses and citizens enough to change their behaviours. At the moment, it is easier to do the wrong thing than the right thing. It is easier to throw things in the trash than in a recycling bin. It is easier and cheaper to dispose of waste in landfills than to repurpose it. And so on. We should be creating a circular system by default. As a start, if landfills did not exist and the right reverse logistics were put in place for material recovery, materials would go back into the cycle much faster and with a smaller environmental impact.”

What interesting developments have you witnessed in your work with the CEC?

“At the inception of the circular economy my fear was that people would immediately associate the term with recycling. There was a whole discussion around not associating circularity exclusively with recycling but rather focusing on designing out waste so that by default we do not create waste. However, I am positive about the trend that I see emerging, as people start understanding and embedding the concept of circularity. There are more and more organisations, including big corporations, committing to the redesign of the entire system of production and consumption. For example, one of the CEC Members, the company Terracycle, partnered with Nestlé, Danone, P&G and others, has launched Loop, a system allowing consumers to buy products in reusable and returnable containers.”

It looks like the circular economy has caught the attention of consumers and producers. Do you think this process will continue to grow?

“The growth of the circularity concept, in terms of awareness and action, has been exponential. We see it in the number of events and conferences worldwide; in the number of companies trying to understand how to embed it into their practices; and in the number of new members joining the CEC. In our opinion this is not a trend that will fade, it is a change of economic model that is going to help humanity sustain our quality of life while fixing our relationship to the environment and society as a whole. We have reached a tipping point where either we change, or we are done. Fortunately, enough people are realising this. The economic model we need includes shifting from being mere consumers to becoming users, and these changes are connected to the lifestyles we are already acquiring, such as renting cars and clothes.”

Is there a cultural shift occurring on a global scale?

“Definitions of culture and cultural circles are getting more and more blurry in the current interconnected world where people increasingly belong to many places at the same time. Some countries are faster than others in embracing the circular economy, sometimes because they do not have abundant resources they have to learn how to manage the few resources they have a lot faster. Furthermore, some countries are bigger and their choices influence other countries. For example, with China closing its doors to waste exports from foreign countries, the EU has had to speed up the process of understanding and managing its waste flows now that they cannot simply be offloaded to China. Even if some countries embark on the circular economy later than others, it is human nature to evolve and build better communities, therefore it seems likely that every culture will embrace the change sooner or later.”

What countries are at the forefront of the circular economy?

“During the Circular Economy Mapping Week that took place in March 2018 in 65 cities worldwide, over 2,100 CEC Members came together to identify the circular solutions already happening around the world. The Netherlands, United Kingdom (especially Scotland) and Finland are the countries with a higher commitment and advancement in the circular economy field. The fundamental pillar common to these three regions is a true governmental commitment to investing in new circular solutions in order to redesign, especially with regards to their industrial strategies. For example, the circular economy is a key part of Scotland’s Economic Strategy and Manufacturing Action Plan and is supported by a £70 million investment, £30m of which comes from EU funding.”

Circular Economy Club, www.circulareconomy