A Linear Economy: Definition, Examples, Pros & Cons, & More

In the guide below, we discuss different points about a linear economy.

We outline what a linear economy is, provide examples of it works and different practices, list and explain some pros & cons, along with providing some other relevant information.


What Is A Linear Economy? (A Definition)

There isn’t one singular definition for a linear economy.

Different reports have slightly different definitions of what a linear economy is.

However, a general definition of a linear economy might be an economy that extracts resources, uses those resources, and disposes of those resources via various waste management options

Linear economies are described by some reports as having a ‘Take, Make, Dispose’ lifecycle for resources.

The priorities for a linear economy might be economic priorities, such as meeting the demand of the consumer, and, the profit incentive of the producers. 


Linear Economies vs Circular Economies

We put together a separate guide comparing linear economies to circular economies.

However, as a brief summary here, linear economies can be further described by comparing them to circular economies.

A few key differences might be that:

– Circular economies might prioritize sustainability in the form of sustainable resource management, and environmental conservation in the form of minimizing waste and the pollution that can result from waste (which can result in environmental degradation), whereas, linear economies might prioritize economic goals

– Circular economies might have a resource lifecycle that looks something like ‘Make, Recycle or Reuse, & Remake (from existing resources and materials)’, whereas, linear economies might involve a ‘Take (resources from the environment), Make, Dispose (of materials and waste)’ resource lifecycle


What Are Some Examples Of How Linear Economies Might Work?

Some examples of how linear economies might work might include, but aren’t limited to:

– Extraction & Production Of Resources

Linear economies might put more emphasis on extracting and producing virgin resources.

One major example of this is the extraction of fossil fuels, and minerals and commodities.

Another major example of this is agricultural products, such as fibres, animal products, etc.


– Production

The production of products and materials may come from either virgin materials, or recycled material.

So, it can involve either new manufacturing, or ‘remanufacturing’.

Additionally, sometimes waste and inputs from the production process might be treated or re-used, but sometimes they may be disposed of without being treated or re-used too.


– Usage

The lifespan of the product or material whilst in use may not be as important in a linear economy, as long as it meets the needs of producers and consumers, such as profit for producers, and affordability and performance for consumers.


– Disposal 

There’s a range of available waste management options in a linear economy.

Landfills and waste incineration might be options, but recycling, reuse, and other waste management options might be used too.

Open loop recycling might be used more than closed loop recycling in a linear economy


– Pollution & Environmental Issues

There may be some measures in place to reduce or manage pollution and environmental issues arising from waste management in linear economies.

However, there may also be a range of issues from the disposal, dumping or leaking of waste.

This can lead to environmental degradation and pollution in the environment in some ways.


Potential Pros & Cons Of A Linear Economy

The potential pros and cons of a linear economy may in some ways be inverse to the potential pros and cons of a circular economy.

However, below is a summary of what some of those pros and cons might be:


Potential Pros

Majority Of The World’s Economic Activity Might Currently Be Linear

One report published in 2020 indicated that less that 10% of the world is ‘circular’.

What this might indicate is that the linear economy is currently a more practical and realistic model than the circular economy, based on the systems, infrastructure and technology we have setup and have access to.


May Have Economic & Social Benefits

– May Lead To Greater Profitability, As Well As More Economic Opportunities For Income & Employment

Because there are less restrictions on production, consumption and waste management, a linear economy may have more economic opportunities available overall.

There might be more opportunities for producers to pursue profits, and more opportunities for workers to pursue employment and incomes.


– May Make More Economic & Practical Sense In Some Instances

Linear economies may in some instances do a better job of being economically feasible, as well as incentivising what practically works.

For example, in a linear economy, waste may be managed in a way that makes the most economic sense, such as sending low value materials to landfill, and recycling and reusing materials with more economic value.

As another example, only materials and resources that make practical sense to recycle or reuse, based on factors such as the traits, properties and performance of the reused materials, might be circulated back to reuse in a linear economy.


There Might Be More Practical Ways Available To Manage The Range Of Waste Types Generated

Similar to the above point about restrictions, because there are less restrictions on waste management options, there might be a greater range of ways to practically manage waste.

Not all waste can be reused or recycled, and used in remanufacture for example.

In this instance, options like landfill and incineration are available to deal with these other types of waste.


Potential Cons

Some Groups & Individuals May Take Advantage Of A Linear Economy In An Irresponsible Way, At The Expense Of The Rest Of Society & The Environment

For example, some companies may maximize profits whilst having an extremely negative environmental impact and depleting resources a rapid rate.


May Have Some Sustainability & Environmental Drawbacks

Including but not limited to:

– Resource Depletion

Using non renewable resources over renewable resources may contribute to resource depletion.

Additionally, a faster rate of production and consumption without reusing or recovering 


– Environmental Degradation & Pollution

Using dirtier energy sources over cleaner energy sources may contribute to things such as air pollution, and emissions of greenhouse gases.

Not treating or reusing production waste and chemicals can lead to pollution when discharged and dumped into the environment.

And, some waste management options such as landfills and waste incineration can lead to waste leaking into the environment, or, pollutants being emitted into the air.

The generation of more waste in general (as opposed to trying to reduce waste) can also lead to higher rates of waste pollution.




1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides


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