Our current economic model relies on the conventional linear economy, which follows the pattern of creation, consumption and disposal of products. However, this linear economy is not sustainable. It leads to an increasing pressure on finite resources and generates significant waste, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The circular economy offers an alternative way. It seeks to extract the maximum value from resources in use and keeps materials in circulation for as long as possible. It aims to minimize the environmental and social impacts, as well as to reduce economical costs and create jobs.
Circular economy prioritizes regenerative resources as material inputs and making the most out of existing resources and materials. According to Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it is based on three principles: design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, regenerate natural systems. Main pillars of action are known as the 3 R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
The circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital. The transition from linear economy to circular economy can put economic growth on a sustainable pathway.
In recent years, the circular economy has gained increasing prominence as a tool which presents solutions to some of the world's most pressing crosscutting sustainable development challenges. The circular economy holds particular promise for achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations Agenda 2030 established in 2015.
For the aviation sector, circular economy is an emerging concept and while its application is still not widespread, the utilization of circular economy concepts could already provide valuable environmental, social and economic opportunities. Circular economy has potential to reshape the whole supply chain from product design to end-of-life management.
Aviation already utilizes some of the concepts associated with circular economy. It is mainly focusing on three components of aviation: aircrafts, flights and aerodromes. Manufacturers, airlines and airports are already involved in the process and more are expected in the future. Numerous opportunities exist, such as reusing and recycling End-of-life (EoL) aircraft materials, reducing and valorizing waste during flights and in ground infrastructures (food, packaging, municipal solid waste, construction and demolition debris), reducing energy, water and raw material consumption.
See Chapter 7 "Circular Economy" of the 2019 ICAO Environment Report for additional information.