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What is the circular economy?

Did you know that each person in Spain creates an average of 462 kilos of waste per year? Discover the “7 Rs” of the circular economy and start reducing your carbon footprint today.

6 min read

When we talk about the circular economy,  we’re usually referring to an attempt to follow the example of nature, where all elements are recycled or broken down. In a circular economy, resources are reused to extend their life and reduce waste.

You may have already incorporated recycling into your routine to help minimize your environmental impact. However, recycling is just one of the habits that you’ll need to adopt to reduce waste and improve your carbon footprint. If you’re not sure where to begin, you’re in luck! Read on to find out what the circular economy is and how to incorporate its principles into your daily life using the “7 Rs”.

The circular economy, defined

The circular economy is a system of production and consumption based on reusing available products, materials, and resources as much as possible to reduce waste. Its goal is to extend the lifecycle of products and convert waste into new raw materials. The Circular Economy Foundation defines the concept as “producing goods and services while reducing the consumption and waste of raw materials, water, and energy sources”.

Unlike the traditional economy—where a product is made, bought, used, and thrown out—the circular economy seeks to maximize the lifecycle of products. By recycling, upcycling, and selling old goods, it’s possible to minimize the impact manufacturing has on the environment, optimize the use of resources, and reduce the waste produced.

For consumers and businesses alike, the lesson is clear—in order to adopt a sustainable system of consumption, it’s necessary to remove “throw-away” products. However, the circular economy encompasses much more than just packaging and consumption—it also includes sectors like water management, construction, and transport.

The Strategy for a Circular Economy in Spain

With so much at stake, you may be wondering if the Spanish government is doing anything to promote the circular economy—and the answer is yes.

The Spanish national cabinet, “Consejo de Ministros” (Council of Ministers), recently put forward the Strategy for a Circular Economy in Spain (EEEC), also known as "Circular Spain, 2030". This plan aims to reduce the amount of materials the nation uses by 30%, improve water use efficiency by 10%, and cut the amount of waste produced by 15% relative to the year 2010. The plan is wide-reaching and demands the contribution of citizens and the economic sectors. There are seven sectors on which the EEEC will focus—construction, agrifood, fishing and forestry, industry, consumer goods, tourism, and the textile and clothing industry. 

Data from the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge estimates that Spain needs over two and a half times its current landmass to meet the needs of the country’s economy. If you want to find out more information about the agenda of the Spanish Circular Economy Strategy, get all the details on the ministry website.

Who's involved in the circular economy?

When it comes to the circular economy, everyone needs to do their part, whether it’s the public sector, companies, or consumers. Government programs that favor a production and consumption model, like “Circular Spain 2030”, are particularly essential. These will allow us to maximize the value of the products, materials and resources that are in our economy.

But citizens also have an important role to play. We need to stop and reflect on what we can change in our day-to-day lives to promote a model of production and consumption that considers the environmental impact every step of the way. Not sure where to start? Try considering the “7 Rs” of the circular economy. These will give you a starting point for making small adjustments that can have a big impact over time.

The 7 Rs of the circular economy

  1. Rethink

Going from a linear economy to a circular economy calls for a profound transformation. Products need to be rethought, right from the first step in the production process—including what materials are to be used, packaging, how much waste will be produced during manufacturing, and more.

While this step is geared more towards companies, you can also apply it in your day-to-day life by rethinking how you consume. Opt for products made from recycled materials, avoid single-use items, and study up on the systems of production and distribution used by the brands you consume. Every little helps!

  1. Refurbish

Vintage items are getting more popular by the day. Make the most of this trend by upcycling old items and giving them a second life. You can do this with clothes, furniture, or even electronic gadgets.

  1. Reduce

Try to reduce the amount of products you consume in general. This not only reduces waste from materials, packaging, and eventually throwing the item away, it will also reduce clutter in your home, and save you some cash to boot!  

  1. Reuse

Give your products a second, third, and fourth life by using them again or repurposing them for another use. Perfect for creative geniuses!

  1. Repair

We live in a world which tells us that when something is broken, it’s cheaper to buy a new one than to repair it. Perhaps you've heard the term “planned obsolescence”—the corporate practice of manufacturing products that are designed to stop working properly after a certain amount of time. Smartphone batteries are a great example. 

Why not fight back? Try to repair products before you buy something new. Sure, it might be cheaper to re-buy in the short term, but our planet ends up paying for the production costs and the waste you’ll produce.

  1. Recycle

You’re probably already an avid recycler, but it’s worth reminding you to keep it up. When a product has been used to the maximum, always recycle it so that it can become a raw material for a new product.

  1. Recover

Recover pre-used materials and bring them back into the production system. For example, separate organic waste and then use it as natural compost.

Buy and sell second-hand items via Wallapop with your N26 card

Selling things you no longer use and buying second-hand items are perfect ways to extend the life of products. Reusing clothes or furniture instead of buying them new is a great first step toward making the 7 Rs of the circular economy a part of your daily life.

At N26, we want to support you on this journey. That’s why we’ve partnered with Wallapop, the leading platform for buying and selling second-hand items in Spain. And now, we’re bringing you a special offer—get three deliveries of up to 5kg absolutely free when you use your N26 debit Mastercard!

If you're already an N26 customer, simply open your Wallapop app and add your N26 card as a payment method. The delivery costs will be automatically deducted when you use your N26 debit Mastercard to pay for your next three orders.

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