How to turn waste into gold - The Circular Economy

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I've written a short but clear introduction to the Circular Economy. What is it, what do we need to change, and how can we support it as entrepreneurs, designers and consumers.

Imagine an economy where waste does not exist…

An economy where resources do not lose value after being used…This is an economy where waste is used as a resource — our new gold.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, this idealistic fantasy has a name: the circular economy.

The circular economy represents an economy that looks beyond the ‘’take, make and dispose’’ extractive linear economy we’re finding ourselves in now.

What we would perceive as waste nowadays, would be seen and used as a resource in the circular economy. The aim is to stop products, materials and resources from losing value at any stage of the Supply Chain — always keeping them at their highest value and applicability.

I’m a big supporter of reversed logistics and reusing and recycling materials/products. Yet, if ‘new’ products that are made of recycled materials/products have no intended purpose for after the performance/life cycle ends, it means that they will eventually end up as waste in the landfill — this is not truly circular; it only extends the performance- and life cycle temporarily. Nevertheless, it’s a big step in the right direction.

So, what are we waiting for..? Because the benefits are unimaginably rewarding…

When implemented right, we will create a closed loop of almost inexhaustible products, resources, and materials > preventing and tackling the negative consequences of the limited linear economy we find ourselves in now, which is negatively impacting our environment, society and businesses. Apart from significantly improving our quality of life, transferring to a Circular Economy will also lead to, among other things, employment opportunities and reduced costs.

But how? Mostly through innovative re-design!

To transfer to a circular economy we need to rethink and redefine our products and services through design. 

As the scientist Michael Braungart pointed out in his Ted Talk at TEDxAmazonia(←highly-recommended): 

'Everything we consume should be designed to go back into the biological system’ and ‘Everything we use as a service should be designed to go back into the Technical system.'

We should look at everything we have created so far, and re-design it to fit this description which will leave us with no waste. Instead of focusing on how to minimise our negative footprint, let’s focus on how to increase our positive footprint. — Everything that, sooner or later, turns into waste, should be re-designed! You should know by now; waste does not exist.

  • Explore opportunities/waste — Waste does not exist! (can’t repeat this enough). I can only see resources and endless opportunities…
  • Re-design by thinking outside the box — Look around you, be creative, innovate, and reshape our future; the products that we consume should be designed to return to the Biological System, for example by being biodegradable. The products that provide us with a service, should be designed to return to the Technical System, for example through leasing.
  • Take responsibility — Shift from short-term to long-term thinking. Your actions have an impact, whether you are the business manufacturing the product or the consumer buying it. Take into account that natural resources are, at the moment, scarce and don’t forget that what you throw away does not magically disappear only because you can’t see it anymore. — So, let’s make sure that the products we consume do!
  • Work together, be a team — Everyone and every business has their own expertise. Work together to give our products a new purpose and to add value to yourself and your organisation. Let’s become more efficient!
  • Products as a service — As consumers, we have to realise that we don’t want the product… We want the performance the product provides us. Therefore, lease instead of buying! After usage, return the product to the manufacturer who, in the circular economy, will make sure that the product’s life-cycle gets extended or the product gets re-distributed, re- manufactured or recycled.
  • Vote with your money— By buying circular and sustainable products you directly support the better economy and better businesses. Use that power!

An appeal to you; the consumer, the entrepreneur, and the designer —

Vote with your money, think outside the box, and re-design our future.

Let’s close the loop!

Be inspired and support:

These companies are truly circular as they leave no to minimum waste:

  • Snact: ugly fruit (waste) turned into 100% natural fruit snacks which come in a biodegradable(!) packaging that disappears when composted. — Check it out here.
  • Gerrard Street: offering high-end headphones via a lease construction (€7,50/month), a true circular service product. The service includes regular updates and repair service. The modules are made of recyclable materials, and when a module is replaced it will be re-used to make new ones. — Check it out here.

I invite you to leave a comment and share your thoughts! Let's engage in the conversation.

Originally published on Medium

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