I believe we need to move away from an economy based on extraction and consumption to one of regeneration and restoration.
My cousin is studying economics at University and hasn’t even heard of the circular economy. Why not? It should definitely be on the curriculum and a concept that is entirely mainstream.
Our current system is linear. We extract resources, make them into products to use fleetingly, and then just discard them. The problem with this is that many of the materials we use to make products like laptops, mobile phones or cars are simply going to run out. Even BP is predicting that oil supplies are unlikely to last for more than 50 years.
“Technology and innovation have made humans the most wasteful species on the planet. In the 21st century, we must use our ingenuity to turn this around and make progress without waste.”
– Julia Hailes
We have to change – and I’m interested in how to make it happen.
The key to this is designing products and systems that minimise waste, re-use as much as possible and recycle the rest. That’s what the circular economy is all about – making the most of the resources we have and promoting regeneration and restoration.
One of the challenges to this important movement is how to present this idea to the public in a compelling way. As long as it’s viewed as a waste-oriented agenda, it’s going to be associated with lower quality products, less choice, sacrifices. That’s not really going to rally the masses. Therefore, I think a positive vision needs to be set out, describing a beneficial model.
That’s why I believe the circular economy should be part of the third industrial revolution. The new technology being developed for this revolution has massive potential in helping the move to a circular economy, here are some ideas:
- Mapping: Sensors in an internet of things can help keep track of material flows, so we can see what’s coming in, what’s being used and what’s being wasted.
- 3D Printing: Can not only help designers make more sustainable products but waste material is starting to be used to print new products.
- Energy Internet: No longer will we have to burn fossil fuels to power our world. I’ve written about the sustainable energy internet here.
- Sharing: Prioritising access over ownership will mean far fewer products need to be made. Why buy tools or even a car, if you can simply use an app to order what you want, whenever you want it? And, think of how much fewer resources will be needed in a sharing society. Furthermore, this could dramatically decrease disposable culture and planned obsolescence as the incentive would be to design higher quality and longer lasting products.
- Repair: New smart devices and sensors can track the health of individual parts in a product meaning it can be more easily repaired if it breaks.
These technologies can help the transition from destructive consumerism to the sharing and circular economies, but there also needs to be greater awareness on these issues. Luckily, these movements are gaining momentum in every region in the world—hopefully, in time to heal the biosphere and create a more just, humane, and sustainable global economy for every human being on Earth.
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