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Circular Economy versus Recycling
Recycling is the transformation of waste into reusable material.
Recycling begins at the end of a product’s life cycle – at the “get rid of it” stage. However, the circular economy starts at the very beginning to prevent waste and pollution from occurring in the first place. Given current environmental problems, recycling will not be enough to deal with the sheer volume of waste we produce.
Circular Economy aims to prevent waste from being created later in the first place.
Therefore, by its very nature, while “product destroying” recycling is important, extending life cycles in the sensible or upcycling models should be given at least equal consideration. In upcycling, used items are generally left intact and assembled into something new.
The prerequisite of recycling is that the previous product must be destroyed, usually physically or chemically broken down into its component parts, as far as that is possible at all. Especially in the case of composites, incineration (also called thermal recycling) or landfilling is often the only option. Examples are multilayer beverage or food packaging, which can only be separated in very few plants in the world.
Here you can see why the “basic approach” of the Circular Economy, to design products in such a way that they already have the optimum conditions for meaningful recycling, is so important.