Moving “Recycling Oriented Society” to the compost heap

If you translate out of Japanese, you've probably come across the term "循環型社会." According to wikipedia, it means "a society that efficiently uses and reuses finite resources in a sustainable cycle" (my translation).

For some reason, the accepted translation for this term seems to have become "recycling oriented society" (it's the only one listed in the venerable Green Goddess).

The problem is that you almost never see this term used in genuine English documents. Since it doesn't seem very likely that this concept is unique to (or even originates in) Japan, I'm always on the lookout for a better way to express it.

So far, the best English equivalent I've found is "closed loop economy" ("economy" often serves when the Japanese talks about "society"). Unfortunately, clients often aren't adventurous enough to stray from the anointed dictionary translation, so I tend to keep a little collection of links that support my use "non-dictionary" translations.

Here's a comic where I spotted "closing the loop" being used in much the same way as Japanese uses 循環型社会:

We must "close the loop" and make all products
recyclable, reusable, or compostable

6 comments to Moving “Recycling Oriented Society” to the compost heap

  • Catlingual

    Oh Ryan! You found something! This has been bothering me for ages! Closed loop economy makes much more sense. Now to start convincing the clients.

    I love that cartoon.


  • Natem

    Didn’t I lose an argument on this on the mailing list about 2 years ago?

    I favor adding the word “materials” before economy. “Materials Economy” is an increasingly common term, and hits the mark without creating confusion about “dollars and cents” (yen and sen) economics. See “The Story of Stuff” for very mainstream usage of the term (and Google for 32million + hits).

    As an aside: there was a commercial than ran in Northern California sometime during my childhood with a jingle that went “Recycle, Reduce, Reuse and close the loop. We can close the loop.” Must have been late 80’s early 90’s…

  • @Natem

    “Closed loop materials economy” only gets 513 hits on Google, while “closed loop economy” gets 76,200. Also, the “materials” version seems to be favored by German sites, so it makes me suspicious of “translationese.”

    But I think we agree that “closing the loop” is the correct term here.

  • Natem

    Wow. I stand thoroughly corrected.
    The term “closed loop economy” has really come into currency since the mailing list discussion. I remember two results on the first page back then were about protectionist/isolationist economic policies. The greenies have unmistakably conquered the phrase now. I withdraw my objection.

  • I had a chance to use this phrase just today.

  • Richard Sadowsky

    “Circular economy” has recently been gaining currency, too, Ryan!

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