What is the circular economy?

Last revised: May 20, 2024

For centuries, human progress has been predicated on growth. Despite our drive for constant growth, we know that Earth’s resources are finite, and we have responsibility to ensure that we protect Earth’s invaluable resources for future generations. One way we can do this is through a concept known as the "circular economy."

Circularity has been present in human civilization for thousands of years. It implies a sense of responsibility to the self, the community and the future. There is a notion of balance in circularity, and by redefining our relationship to the planet from one of consumption and waste – a linear economy defined by “take, make, waste” – to one of conservation and replenishment – a circular economy – we can achieve balance. 

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines the circular economy in pragmatic terms: the goal is to eliminate waste and pollution, regenerate nature and invent new processes to make the products we rely on without depleting the resources our planet relies on. These themes are reflected in the Vision 2030 goals of International Paper, where innovation is not just a means to greater productivity and product reliability, but also a desire to create better future for people, the planet and the company itself.

As leaders in the circular economy, International Paper has skin in the game when it comes to innovating in a sustainable fashion. We ensure that the forests from which we harvest also provide habitat for animals and people, and that the forests are regenerated. We work to reduce and optimize our use of water and to clean and replenish the water we deliver back out into the environment. Our products are recyclable, and we assist in this process by collecting and processing recycled old corrugated containers (OCC) for future use. Most importantly, we hold ourselves to account: every year we release a sustainability report that provides a concrete and transparent assessment of our progress and helps our peers and shareholders reflect on their own contributions to the circular economy. 

The revolution in recyclable packaging is just beginning, and fortunately, there is ample opportunity for collaboration. In 2021, International Paper joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Network, and adopted the circular economy as one of our guiding principles. Devin Giles, manager of renewable solutions for International Paper, commented: “Our roadmap to achieve our Renewable Solutions goal is shaped by the vision and principles of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. At International Paper, we’re examining the systems we use, the supply chains we rely on, and the design of our products to make innovative products that help our customers meet their sustainability goals.”

Our roadmap to achieve our Renewable Solutions goal is shaped by the vision and principles of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. At International Paper, we’re examining the systems we use, the supply chains we rely on, and the design of our products to make innovative products that help our customers meet their sustainability goals.