The initial goal of the circular economy is to have a positive impact on the ecological systems, which will not deplete or overload them. This is reflected in the ecological benefits of the circular economy. For example, a circular economy emits less greenhouse gases, the soil, air and water remain vital and nature reserves are preserved.
Less greenhouse gases
By following the principles of the circular economy, greenhouse gas emissions are automatically reduced on a global scale. Climate change and the use of materials are closely linked. According to Circle Economy calculations, 62% of global greenhouse gas emissions (excluding those from land use and forestry) come from the extraction, processing and production of goods to meet society’s needs; only 38% are emitted in the supply and use of products and services (Circle Economy, 2019). For example, emissions from industry in the European Union would fall by 56% in 2050 if the circular economy were to become a reality (SITRA, 2018). The reduction in emissions measured on a global scale will be even greater, because the European Union will no longer import primary raw materials from countries outside the Union, which will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions in those countries.
Vital soil, air and water bodies
The application of circularity in the economy creates vital ecosystems such as soil, air and water bodies. These ecosystems provide services such as cleaning, products such as fertile farmland, pollination and clean drinking water. In a linear economy, these services are ultimately depleted by constant withdrawal of products or overburdened by the dumping of toxins. If these products are used in a cycle and the services are not burdened by toxic substances, the soil, air and water bodies remain resilient and productive (SYKE, 2018).
A good illustration of this is the agricultural system, which is highly dependent on ecosystem services such as water cleaning, nutrient recycling and pollination. In Europe, for example, a circular approach to European food systems can lead to an 80% reduction in the use of artificial fertilisers. This restores the natural balance in the soil (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2016). Adopting this outcome, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality was among the first to present a vision on Agriculture, Nature and Food under the name: ‘Valuable and Connected’ in 2018. The vision states that the future of the food supply can only be secured if we switch to recycled agriculture.
Conservation of nature reserves
The extraction of raw materials and the dumping of waste have a negative impact on nature reserves. These nature areas are important for the preservation of ecosystem services, natural and cultural heritage. At the moment, many governments and organisations are mainly involved in protecting nature from extraction and the dumping of raw materials and waste. In order to systematically preserve nature, this extraction and dumping must stop in general. This is achieved within the circular economy (SYKE, 2018).