Edition 98
Understanding How America is Approaching the Circular Economy
by Gina Wu Lee, Founder, Circular CoLab

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The State of the Circular Economy in America delivers the first United States focused scan of the Circular Economy landscape. By providing an analysis of 202 United States based Circular Economy initiatives, this report offers concrete examples of Circular Economy solutions, as well as demonstrates the diverse array of stakeholders and industries that are already participating in the creation of the Circular Economy here in America.

The goals of this report are threefold:

1. Provide concrete examples of Circular Economy solutions to drive understanding of the Circular Economy
2. Highlight trends and opportunities in the US Circular Economy landscape
3. Catalyze further collaboration around Circular Economy solutions

Key Findings include:

• Circular Economy solutions are here in America, just don’t call them that. There are many organizations, including for-profits, social enterprises, non-profits and government entities that are currently taking action in America to promote Circular Economy principles. Many of these initiatives, such as Caterpillar since 1973 with their Remanufacturing program and Goodwill since 1902, may not explicitly cite the Circular Economy in their mission and were operating long before the term Circular Economy entered the mainstream.

• More focus is needed on closing the loop for goods and materials. Less than 8% of companies included in the report which sold physical product offered take back options. Even for companies whose business models rely on the secondary markets such as secondhand goods, remanufacturing, and repair, the majority only extended product life by one life cycle. Overall, there was also a lack of communication for consumers around proper disposal options for products with less than 40% of consumer goods companies included in the report offering easily accessible information.

• Lack of radical alternatives. Most of the initiatives included in the report are addressing needs within our current economic and production model. These solutions are very important in the short and medium term but to shift to a truly circular economy will require new options for delivering value. For example, what if instead of buying a product, we could buy the 3-D blueprint, go to a neighborhood lab that uses locally generated waste material as feedstock, and print a custom product? Once the useful life of the product was over, the product would be processed back into feedstock for the community to re-utilize. This would create a closed loop system for not just physical material but also for local wealth creation and empowerment.

Findings from the report include a summary and analysis of different initiatives grouped by their Theory of Change and Industry Sector. Specific categories include:

• Design: Focusing on the design phase of products, systems, or materials to enable better reuse, repair, recycling and/or incorporate less material usage
• Education and Awareness: Building awareness and interest in Circular Economy principles and activities.
• Financing: Providing funds and investor support
• Information Transparency: Providing greater insight and transparency into current processes and/or systems
• Material Innovation: The development of new materials that are more sustainable from a production, life-cycle, and/or end-of-life standpoint than those currently in production
• Product as a Service: Offering an alternative to ownership whereby the organization provides a service instead of selling a product
• Product Life Extension: Creating methods to prolong the use and/or life-cycle of a given product through activities including sharing, repair, reuse, and re-manufacturing
• Waste as a Resource: Utilizing what is considered waste and upcycling and/or recycling this material into another material or product.

The Full Report also includes expert interviews, case studies, and editorials featuring:

• Cole Rosengren, Senior Editor, Waste Dive
• ECOR & 20th Century Fox - Sustainability on Set
• Thread International - Tackling Pollution and Poverty
• Iris Alonzo, Co-Founder, Everybody.World
• Kari Herlevi, Project Manager Circular Economy, SITRA
• Cohealo - Lowering Costs and Increasing Utilization Rates for Hospitals
• Ecolab & Knjaz Milos - Understanding Chemical Leasing

For the Full Report or Database, please visit the website.

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