A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them while in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.
Circular economy has gained increasing prominence as a tool which holds particular promises for achieving several of the United Nations SDGs, including affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), climate action (SDG 13), life below water (SDG 14), and life on land (SDG 15).
Micro-organisms are key players in the development of a circular economy; they contain a plethora of enzymes that can be used to convert bio-based resources into multiple products that can contribute to greater environmental sustainability through reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving resource efficiency, and enhancing animal and human health.
- Micro-organisms are crucial in creating a circular production cycle for plastics where they are re-used, recycled and upcycled through their conversion to biodegradable polymers, which allow the return of carbon to nature in a managed, safe and sustainable way.
- Through anaerobic digestion, micro-organisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. The process is used for industrial or domestic purposes to manage waste or to produce fuels.
- The micro-organisms used in bioremediation (the process of treating environmental wastes and contaminants using naturally occurring microorganisms to convert harmful/toxic substances into less/non-toxic substances) rely on the environmental wastes or contaminants as their source of energy. By feeding on the environmental wastes or contaminants, they reduce the load of waste and contaminants in the environment
The circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. Learn more about why microbiology is essential for the development of a circular economy in this policy explainer.
Explore a range of case studies that focus on the Circular Economy, including using bacteria to develop sustainable infrastructure, searching for a sustainable solution to the seaweed inundations on Caribbean beaches, and whether cyanobacteria could be promising solution to ensuring a circular economy and establishing a sustainable future.
Professor Alison Smith Head of the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge and Emilia Wojcik, PhD student at the University of Manchester discuss how their research contributes to moving towards a circular economy as part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).
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