Circular economy: An economic model for the future

Last updated January 25, 2023
Reading time: 4 min

Did you know that each year, human beings consume the equivalent of resources produced by 1.7 Planet Earths? This pace is not sustainable. This is why Montréal is concentrating on circular economy to promote the ecological transition and an economic development that is green and inclusive.

A new, more sustainable economic model

The reason there is more and more talk about circular economy is because this new economic model is the opposite of the classic linear model. In a linear pattern, new resources are taken to manufacture products that are used and then thrown away. “With circular economy, we revisit production and consumption methods in order to optimize resources,” said Natacha Beauchesne, economic development commissioner for the city. “Circular economy helps us conserve and maximize resources that, as we know, are limited.”

Strategies to promote the circularity of resources are numerous and apply to the industrial, commercial and social sectors. “In Québec, we talk a lot about industrial ecology, in which one company inputs into another,” said Melissa Stoia, director of sustainable development and circular economy at Synergie Montréal.

The other strategies involve the whole production change, from ideation to waste management, and include ecodesign of products and services, local and responsible sourcing, repairs, recycling, upcycling and resource enhancement.

Circular economy is a production, exchange and consumption system that aims to optimize the use of resources at all stages of the life cycle of goods and services through circular logic, while reducing one’s environmental footprint and contributing to the well-being of individuals and communities.

An economic model that contributes to the ecological transition

The environmental benefits of adopting a circular economy model are significant. “We are at a key moment of the ecological transition,” said Beauchesne. “The city has set an ambitious objective for itself in moving towards zero waste in 2030 and being carbon neutral in 2050. Circular economy can help get us there.”

The circular model can lower the costs of management, make supply more secure, reduce companies’ energetic footprint and boost efficiency.

In Montréal, the growth of circular economy offers many positive socioeconomic benefits, including the creation of local jobs. By themselves, projects supported by Synergie Montréal between 2016 and 2021 generated more than $3 million in income and savings on supply and waste management costs. They also eliminate 3,450 tonnes of greenhouse gas and nearly 2,400 of trash each year.

An innovative sector that is fast growing

“At present, just 3.5 per cent of Québec’s economy is circular, but the sector is growing quickly, and we can see that continuing with hundreds of new initiatives,” said Beauchesne. “It’s also an incredibly innovative sector.” Companies that take the leap have proven that daring and imagination pay off.

Maçonnerie Gratton is a good example. The company developed a technique to re-use used brocks on site. “This technique avoids a lot of waste,” said Stoia. “At Synergie Montréal, we calculated the carbon difference and showed that for every 1,000 square feet of bricks, this technique reduced the amount of carbon gas produced by five tonnes.”

In the biofood sector, company linking is bringing forth many initiatives. Second Life, for example, sells fruits and vegetables that Montréal-area farmers can’t sell, while LOOP reduces food waste by turning unwanted food into juice. “The organic materials sector is growing fast,” said Stoia. “There’s a company called TriCycle that uses food waste to feed edible insects. It upcycles these organic materials, meaning that they now have more value than their original form.”

The montrealcirculaire.org reference platform aims to show the depth and breadth of the transition to circular economy by listing circular economy initiatives, news and resources in Montréal.

Assistance for small businesses to take the leap into circular economy

Companies that are interested in circular economy or who want to dive into the adventure aren’t left to do so on their own. “By daring to take the leap and change their business models, companies have everything to gain,” said Beauchesne. “And so does the entire community!”

Synergie Montréal: Personalized support

Synergie Montréal offers valuable assistance. “We walk companies through the process by taking a tour of their facilities,” said Stoia. “We give them an external perspective to help them identify hot spots and best practices to implement. That way, we can get at the problem in the most consistent way for the company. No two businesses approach circular economy in the same way.”

The support offered by Synergie Montréal also includes looking for business opportunities (linking), relationship workshops, creating circularity networks as well as technical and scientific support to create a maximum of projects and have more impact.

Financial assistance from the city

Montréal has been actively implementing programs and support tools for circular economy.

In partnership with Synergie Montréal, Fondaction and Recyc-Québec, the city is providing financial support for businesses. “With Fondaction, we helped create the first circular economy investment fund in Canada, which has already funded and supported three Montréal companies (Still Good, Groupe Onym and CarbiCrete) with their circular economy projects,” said Beauchesne. “We also want to support circular economy through programs and calls for bids by integrating circularity into eligible themes, such as for the Open Innovation Subsidy Program for start-up companies.”

Find out more

Public consultation

To stimulate and consolidate circular economy, the city has developed a roadmap that will be the subject of an extensive public consultation. The document and conditions for participation will be made public in the coming weeks by the Commission sur le développement économique et urbain et l’habitation.

Portrait of the circularity of Montréal’s economy

In collaboration with Circle Economy, Montréal conducted its first overview of circularity within its city limit in four priority sectors: Biofood, construction, textiles and mobility. This exercise identified a number of opportunities and solutions to put in place in order to transition towards a circular economy.

Photo: Tommy Bouillon, president of Maçonnerie Gratton