The two virtuous cycles

Today, the composition of most products is unclear and there is no clear guidance on how to close the loop at the end of the use phase, which leads to inefficient recycling. To avoid becoming waste, products have to be designed for either the biological or the technical cycle.

To enter the biological cycle, materials have to be non-toxic and biodegradable. This enables them to become nutrients for the biological organisms by which they will be consumed, generating natural products that can be reused as renewable materials in economic cycles. The biological cycle is the logical pathway for products that are consumed and cannot be recovered (e.g. food). It draws on ecosystem services that are delivered ‘for free’ by nature and that need to be protected and regenerated.

The technological cycle is about returning materials and components to the manufacturers, so they can be used as inputs for new products.  The technological cycle is ideal for products that will be used rather than consumed, and can therefore be easily recovered if designed accordingly.

These principles are illustrated above in the butterfly diagram of the circular economy, developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation based on the Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) philosophy of Braungart and McDonough. The diagram is explained in more detail in the "Null Offall" strategy.

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