Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Our office is open to visitors by appointment only. Please call or email from 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

TTY 711

12000 Government Center Pkwy, Suite 533
Fairfax, VA 22035

John Morrill,
Acting Director

What Goes Around: An Intro to the Circular Economy

The modern global economy is built on centuries of innovation and entrepreneurship, from the advent of agriculture, to the industrial revolution, to the Internet age, generations of inventors and pioneers have enabled progress. Today, technology allows nearly instantaneous connectivity and provides business leaders and policy makers with the ability to make informed decisions potentially impacting billions of lives. The fast pace of our world can make it hard to stop and assess whether our collective progress is for the better or the worse.

Our current economy is largely linear – we take things from the natural world, we make products out of those resources, and when we’re done with said products, we discard them. It’s a take-make-waste system and it has been this way for hundreds of years. When we take a step back, it’s easy to see how unsustainable this model is. After all, our natural resources are not inexhaustible and as our population grows, the amount of waste we can reasonably manage is limited.

The solution to this untenable situation is a circular economy – an economy that is based on three core principles, as defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to accelerating the transition to a circular economy worldwide. By designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems, we can create an economy that will work for all people and for the planet in perpetuity.

When we start to think of waste as a design flaw rather than an inevitability, there is a fundamental shift in our approach to material goods. Every piece of trash we discard becomes a failure of our economic system, rather than a trivial addition to landfills that are too often out of sight and out of mind.

The circular economy presents an enormously exciting opportunity for creators and innovators everywhere, including those right here in Fairfax County. By rethinking how we create and use products, we can design for a future that is healthy, environmentally sound, and economically sustainable. The linear economy is, in part, the result of a lack of global thinking and perspective. We now have the chance to embrace an economic model worthy of our time.

All of this begs the question, what can the residents and businesses of Fairfax County do to advance the shift from linear to circular?

As a resident, you can pay attention to what you buy and which brands you support. Do your research and get to know the companies behind your clothing, household items, personal care products, technology, and more. Once you have the lay of the land, seek out alternatives to those products that are not being designed or produced to enable circularity.

As a business owner or manager, you can review your supplier list with circularity in mind. Take a look at your role in the make-take-waste chain and consider embracing a zero-waste culture within your business.

Changing an entire economic system will require the investment and involvement of millions of people. Are you ready to be a part of the transition?

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