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What Is Linear and Circular Economy?

Kirjoittanut: Katrina Cirule - tiimistä SYNTRE.

Esseen tyyppi: Yksilöessee / 2 esseepistettä.
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 4 minuuttia.


The subject of sustainability has always been something interesting, but foreign to me. It was just this year when I learned how to recycle or found out more about the unethical business behind fast fashion. Even though it’s a slow start, I have support points in the community: the Sustainability team, my teammates Soonie and Donee, and other enthusiastic teampreneurs. Because of them, it feels safe to look into these topics one step at a time. In this essay, which was inspired by SYNTRE’s sustainability Paja, I will cover the basics of the linear and circular economy.


Firstly, let’s take a look at linear economy. Businesses in this economy extract raw materials to produce products that are mostly destined to end up in, for example, landfills. The principle (see Image 1) this traditional economic model lays on does not concern for the ecological footprint and other consequences it leaves. Linear or the so-called “take, make, dispose” economy is a mindset of profit over sustainability.  (EcoDesign Circle 2021)


IMAGE 1. Linear economy model. (EcoDesign Circle 2021)


When looking from different perspectives, the linear economy can have its pros:

  1. a greater chance for profitability since about 90% of the world’s systems and infrastructures are linear;
  2. more opportunities for income which has allowed many countries to develop since there are fewer restrictions on business activity management and standards;
  3. it is overall described as fast and efficient since it was a major boost for industrial development.

However, when looking at the cons, they most usually are:

  1. environmental degradation and pollution by taking irresponsible advantage of the system (enormous amounts of emissions and greenhouse gasses, irresponsible waste treatment, etc.);
  2. resource depletion by exhausting non-renewable resources;
  3. the lifespan of a product is not that important, as long as it satisfies both the producers and consumers. After use the value of a product drastically decreases (see Image 2);
  4. social inequality by, for example, businesses not paying enough salaries or not ensuring a safe work environment. (Better Meets Reality 2022)

IMAGE 2. Linear economy value creation. (EcoDesign Circle 2021)



The human population on Earth is growing, and the demand for raw materials grows with it. However, the supply of key raw materials is limited. Therefore, the focus of circular economy is how to keep the already existing products, components, and materials at their highest potential. (Lohan 2018) The answer might be found in the 4 principles of the circulation of resources (see Image 3):

  1. extending use- for example, Kaer “sells cool air”, not air conditioners. Customers pay for the service of installing and maintaining that the machines are in good condition, therefore it extends the use (because technical issues are fixed by professionals before even becoming problems);
  2. redistributing- Mud Jeans based in the Netherlands leases and repairs their jeans, as well as manufactures them in a way that all the parts can be redistributed after use;
  3. remanufacturing- for example, Apple disassembles iPhones to regain high-value parts;
  4. recycling- for example, recycling materials for second-generation clothing. (EcoDesign Circle 2021)


IMAGE 3. Circular economy principles. (EcoDesign Circle 2021)

Circular economy is where design, production, and consumption are all based on sustainability. Circular economy is not just taking the linear economy’s line and shifting it into a circle, it’s a much more systemic change. It’s how we think, how we behave, and how we consume. It can be a solution for many global issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, pollution, and so on. (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2021)


In conclusion, I have realized how much the economic systems we live in affect the environmental, societal, and cultural levels, too. The goal of this essay was to cover the basics of linear and circular economies, but there is still so much to research: the importance of design in circular economy (ecodesign), circular business model canvas, taking a look at actions already taken, for example, Finland’s Circular Economy Roadmap, and so on. I hope that this essay allowed you to take one small step closer to learning more about a different part of sustainability: linear and circular economies.



Reference list:

  1. Better Meets Reality. 2022. A Linear Economy: Definition, Examples, Pros & Cons, & More. Read on 26.11.2022. https://bettermeetsreality.com/a-linear-economy-definition-examples-pros-cons-more/
  2. EcoDesign Circle. 2021. Circular Design: Why and how. Read on 26.11.2022. https://circulardesign.tools/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/EDC_CircularDesign_Pitch.pdf
  3. Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 2021. What is a circular economy? Read on 29.11.2022. https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/topics/circular-economy-introduction/overview
  4. Lohan, C. 2018. The Circular Economy: A Simple Explanation. YouTube video. Published on 13.02.2018. Referred on 29.11.2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbm1MCTobVc


  • Flóra Lang

    I really enjoyed this essay! Great job! 🙂

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