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.
This case study is written by Dr Debbie Bartlett, Principal Lecturer in Environmental Conservation at the University of Greenwich. It details the collaborative effort to tackle the massive inundations of seaweed on beaches that has occurred throughout recent years, impacting on the Caribbean’s white sandy beaches.
This case study is written by Dr Simon Jeffery, Reader in Soil Ecology and Dr Marie Kirby, Senior Lecturer at Harper Adams University, UK. It details how the Horizon 2020 AgroCycle consortium has developed a protocol for the application of the circular economy across the agri-food sector.
This case study is written by Tharangika Bowange who is a postgraduate student at the National Institute of Fundamental Studies (NIFS), Sri Lanka and a member of the Microbiology Society, and Dr. Renuka Ratnayake is a Senior Research Fellow. It focuses on cyanobacteria, which could be promising solution to ensuring a circular economy and establishing a sustainable future.
This case study is written by Dr Susanne Gebhard, who is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bath, UK. It focuses on using bacteria to develop sustainable infrastructure.
This case study is written by Dr Elena Kazamia, who is a Research Scientist at the Institut de Biologie de l’Ecole Normale Supérieure (IBENS) and a member of the Microbiology Society. It focuses on her research on the response of diatoms – the most prolific group of ocean microalgae – to different iron sources.