As we have progressed through Plastic Free month, we have looked at many ways to reduce our impact in terms of plastic waste. But there is a solution, an idea that is sitting there that could be the ultimate game changer. It is rearing its head in some industries and whispers are coming through. There is a lot to work out and the shift will be dramatic. But once it is taken on and embraced, its a new era for humankind and the planet. I am talking about a circular economy.
What economy do we use today?
Our current model of product economy is linear. We take raw materials, we make products and then we dispose of them and create waste. In short, it is a Take, Make, Waste model.
But it is this linear economy that is driving a lot of the negative consequences on our environement and human health and wellbeing. Quite simply, we are using up our finite resources and drowning in our own waste. When you really look into the situation, it’s scary. We are heading down the wrong path and while there are efforts to slow it down, it is not enough. The ocean is turning into a plastic soup and our resources are dwindling.
There has been a change of late with a big drive towards reusing goods. People are reducing their use of single-use plastics and demanding that companies offer plastic-free packaging. Recycling and pre-ownership are also more widely accepted. But is this enough? Is this going to make the difference we need to head on a path of a sustainable future?
Essentially no. Creating a “reuse” culture is only going to take us so far. It will take out some of the use of resources and reduce some of the waste however it will not reduce it to the point where we can look forward to a sustainable future. If you look at the image below, you can see. A reuse economy still has a massive leak after use. We need to close that up completely. Only then will be able to sustain world growth and development for many future generations to come.
A linear economy is holding us back
One of the core problems with linear and reuse economy is our mindset around resources, the health of the planet and consumerism.
Right now, we have a consume and discard culture. Companies urge consumers to buy into and follow trends as soon as it comes out. People flock to keep up and leave a trail of used goods and waste behind them. This waste ends up in landfills, incinerators, the oceans and dumps.
We have to change the way people think about how and why we use products. Moreover, Governments and companies have to change the way that they think about products and shift to a different mindset. Its time to move away from ignorance about our impact and face it. Take action to develop systems and procedures that value ethics over profit. Or more so, embrace that profit can be achieved alongside ethics. They do not need to be opposing forces.
The Circular Economy
As we are looking to more sustainable methods to support a healthy future, a lot of ideas and theories arise. One has been gaining traction and for good reason. A circular economy is based on the cycles of nature. Nothing is wasted and everything is used. Applied to product economy, all materials used to produce goods are used in such a way that they can be cycled indefinitely as reflected in nature.
The circular economy is a new economic model for addressing human needs and fairly distributing resources without undermining the functioning of the biosphere or crossing any planetary boundaries.GreenBiz – 7 Pillars of a circular economy
How would this be done in real life?
It is proposed that we move from buying goods to in a way, renting them. Let’s look at it like this: Why do you want a washing machine? Do you really want to buy this huge thing that is ultimately going to lose value and you will discard it? What are you really after? The physical washing machine or the performance it provides, ie washes? I think we can all agree that we simply desire the performance it offers, washing our clothes. In reality, people do not have time for maintenance, reselling and proper disposal. Even when you want to dispose of correctly, many places don’t have the service available to do so.
Therefore, you would rent the use of the washing machine, and then return it to the company who would then take it apart for all its raw materials and reusable parts and create something new. Nothing lost and nothing wasted. And your clothes are clean.
On the producer’s end, renting out a “performance of a good” does offer them benefits too. Companies lease out those raw materials in the form of a good. The goods offer a certain performance and at the end of its life, it is returned so raw and recyclable materials can be used to create something new. Producers may have to implement new factory systems but at the end of the day, its cheaper than buying dwindling raw materials that are getting more expensive.
Shifting responsibility and valuing transparency
In a circular economy, raw materials and the products themselves are the responsibility of the producers. At this time, it is the responsibility of the consumer. And as we can see, that is not working out for us (or the planet). Shift responsibility to the producer and they will take greater care in reusing raw materials and recycling to create new products. It is then in the best interest of producers to create products that last and be recycled back down to each and every part.
For a circular economy to be successful it will also rely on transparency from business to business and business to consumer. Unfortunately, a lot of things are kept secret in fear of, well, I don’t know. Finding our their secretes? Stealing their designs? In order to survive however into the next generations, we need to learn to cooperate and work with one another. We won’t have the luxury of cell phones and amazing tech when we have no raw materials left or when the planet is no longer habitable. We have little choice. Cooperation and transparency is the key to securing our future.
To secure our future we must rethink how we use raw materials and process used goods. We are running on an unsustainable path with dire consequences. A circular economy is the answer we need.
To be relevant in the future companies must think about how they can get more worth out for the people they serve. Companies will have to foster new ideologies in their businesses to reflect the changing times. A circular economy practised with transparency and cooperation is the only viable option for the future to virtually eliminate waste and preserve essential raw materials.
Start looking out for companies and products that are part of circular economies and support them. As a consumer, start voting with your money. As a business, move ahead of the times and be a part of the solution.
A clean, waste-free, healthy planet and people are there if we choose it.