There are as many ways to think about sustainability as there are people on the planet. But generally you see two ways.
The first is a doomsday hellscape with everyone living Mad Max style.
The second is a glorious utopia with smog-free cities, wildlife overpasses galore, and green space for everyone. In my vision of Utopia, we’ve ditched the matching outfits.
What makes this utopia possible is a circular economy. A society that takes only what it needs, uses, and reuses it for as long as possible, all while giving back and nourishing the environment from start to finish.
( r e ) ˣ was created with a circular economy model in mind. We have enough plastic floating around our oceans we don’t need more. What we need more of is finding ways to use all that plastic in a resourceful way that can help prevent even more waste in the future.
In this post, we’re defining what the circular economy is and what it looks like, welcome!
define the circular economy
A circle is a line that continuously forms and feeds into itself for infinity. The circular economy is based on the same thought process.
In a circular economy, the goal is to use what we have continuously and prevent new waste from being created (as we don’t do in our current linear model).
- Products and materials are designed to be easily fixed
- They can be disassembled entirely to be made into something new
- When disposed they can decompose and act as nutrients for new plant life.
a circular economy acts like nature
Let’s take a field trip to a forest where you have an entirely unique ecosystem of bugs, birds, plants, animals, reptiles, and some other things I’m forgetting.
A hungry owl flies through the trees looking for its next meal. As David Attenborough narrates, it spots a rabbit for dinner and swoops in, eats what it can, and leaves the carcass behind.
What happens now?
- Other animals and fungi get to eat what’s left
- Fungi start popping up absorbing the nutrients
- The remainder decomposes and acts as food for the forest
- The forest uses those nutrients to stay healthy and grow more plants
- Rabbits and other animals come by to eat those plants
And so the process continues. Nothing is wasted, everything becomes a nutrient that feeds into a system.
circular vs linear economies at ( r e )
Currently, we live in a take-make-waste society — that is, linear.
We take resources from the earth, we make them into a product, and then we throw the product away as waste where it sits in a landfill for eternity.
Plastic is a great example.
- Fossil fuels are taken from the earth (take)
- Made into a product like a grocery bag (make).
- Used once, maybe twice, then off to a landfill where it sits and breaks down into smaller plastic pieces leaking harmful chemicals (waste).
We’re striving for a more circular economy at ( r e ) ˣ by taking plastic products that already exist and giving them a new life as a hanger. If (not when) a ( r e ) ˣ hanger breaks, it can be ground back down into pellets to make another hanger or have a new life as a new product.
In a circular economy, products are recycled or repurposed instead of being disposed of when they reach their end of life. Resources are preserved to create lasting economic, social, and environmental values instead of simply being used once and then wasted.
To help achieve this, there are three key principles to the circular economy:
- Removing waste and pollution by limiting the consumption of raw materials.
- Keeping products in circulation longer.
- And regenerating nature.
there are 3 leading principles of the circular economy
The idea of a circular economy has been gaining in popularity in recent years, especially as we begin to feel the effects of Climate Change. Especially anyone in LA.
We can implement a circular economy by consuming fewer natural resources. Not only is this better for society but this can help slow down our rapid acceleration into climate change and the waste problem and excess pollution and biodiversity.
The goal is to build a society that works for the people living in it, functioning with the environment, not as a result of it.
So how can we do it?
The 3 principles of transforming into a circular economy
1. Eliminate waste and pollution
This involves rethinking the supply chain and product design as we know it.
To stimulate the economy after World War II, planned obsolescence was introduced. By designing a product in such a way that a consumer would have to replace it, a company could guarantee a customer for life.
You see that today in items like cell phones and computers and many companies are now skipping planned obsolescence entirely and pushing single-use items.
Many items are made for single-use from the get-go like plastic bags. The problem is not one plastic bag, or mop, or duster sent to the landfill, there’s a whole system of waste and pollution attached to each item.
- The materials and labor to extract the fossil fuels.
- The materials and pollution of the manufacturing system to turn the fossil fuels into a plastic bag.
- The pollution of the trucks, ships, and planes used to transport plastic bags.
- The pollution of plastic bags that don’t make it to the landfill and end up in trees, ditches, and waterways.
- And ultimately, the waste and pollution from the plastic bag sitting in the landfill leaking chemicals.
2. Keep products and materials in use
What if when you upgraded to a new cell phone, your old one was completely disassembled and each part was used to make a brand-new cell phone?
- How much mining could be prevented?
- How much metal could be saved and recycled?
- How many e-waste chemicals would be kept out of landfills?
- How much cheaper would your phone get?
The same thing goes for your washing machine, lawn mower, and television.
For the circular economy to work, products need to stop being made to become trash and instead be made to become something new.
The more we keep materials in circulation, the fewer resources we take from the planet, the less waste is sent to the landfill, and (theoretically) the cheaper the products become.
3. Regenerate nature
No one wants to hurt the environment (I think), but our economy right now requires that we do.
- We drill and refine oil
- We frack for gas
- We mine for minerals
All for products we use one time, or for a short period of time, but that are integral to our way of life.
In the circular economy, the goal is to actively do good things for the environment and continuously work to improve it.
Let’s think about food waste as an example.
- Food is grown by farmers and watered by non-salt water reserves.
- It’s harvested, packaged, then shipped to grocery stores.
- You buy it.
- You eat some of it and some of it spoils.
33% of all food worldwide is wasted and in the U.S. alone, ~30-40% of the country’s food supply ends up in landfills. Once in a landfill, it cannot break back down into organic matter so it sits there rotting, releasing greenhouse gases.
Imagine if every household had a food waste bin that was collected just as your trash and recyclables are (powered by renewable energy).
The food waste was taken to an industrial composting facility where it was composted into nutrient-rich compost and given back to farmers to fertilize their crops with. Doesn’t that feel so… circular?
That act alone would remove 6%-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
In moving towards more sustainable practices such as composting, we’re moving the needle towards being a society based on a circular, regenerative model instead of a take-make-waste.
the circular economy and sustainability
The United States accounts for 5% of the global population, yet we consume 30% of the world’s resources. If we keep up these habits of consumption, we’re going to run out of resources.
Some people feel this is another generation's problem to deal with, but it doesn’t have to be.
We need a major overhaul to the way we live our lives, and while shopping in bulk, switching to a bamboo toothbrush, and never using plastic bags again are great, bigger change needs to happen.
We need to change how we live, how we think, and how we operate. Every step we take towards living sustainably, in harmony with the planet, is a step towards a circular economy.
Being more intentional about how we create products keeps them out of the landfill for longer, avoids extra energy and emissions caused by the constant need to remake and rebuild, and it means less pollution which is better for everyone.
We may never reach a fully circular economy but by shopping with businesses that prioritize it, like ( r e ) ˣ you’re putting your money where your beliefs are and helping us all work towards a more sustainable future.