A circular economy is one that aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible to get the maximum value from them.
For a long time now, we have been operating on a make-use-dispose basis; a linear economy. And this attitude of short-term consumption has led to us becoming a throw-away society. This includes anything from clothes, to white goods, to food, but thankfully, attitudes are changing and the idea of a circular economy is gaining more ground. Not only is this a more sustainable approach, but it is also more economical for businesses too.
In a circular economy, there is no such thing as waste.
Recovering and regenerating products and materials means we reduce waste and this, in turn, helps reduce the environmental impact of production and consumption. Products are designed and optimised for a cycle of disassembly and re-use, reducing carbon emissions and mimicking the life-cycle of nature, which our ancestors were far more aware of and respectful towards than we are today.
We produce 230 tonnes of waste per year.
For the last 20 years, the UK has exported plastics and other recyclables to China, the world’s largest market for recycled waste. However, at the beginning of 2018, China stopped taking in the world’s waste, claiming contamination problems and since then, recycling plants around the UK have been struggling. Now, much of the UK’s waste plastic is sent to Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, where it is either left or burned, in open landfills, often illegally.
Even in the UK, according to an investigation by the Telegraph, hundreds of thousands of tons of waste is re-directed to landfill or incinerators, rather than being sorted for recycling.
What does this mean? Well, it means that you can’t just presume you are doing your bit by filling your recycling bin and leaving it out for collection every week. The answer lies more in NOT producing the waste in the first place, or by making sure you sort your recyclable waste so that it goes directly to those places that will actually recycle it.
As consumers, we can make a conscious effort to cut down on single-use plastics as much as possible. We can only do so much though. Can you shop at a supermarket without encountering any single-use plastics? I don’t think I can. As much as I want to, there’s only so much I can do as a consumer if most of the food on offer comes in plastic packaging. As much as possible, I will pick up loose veg and fruit, but even meat and fish from the butcher’s counter comes in a plastic wrapping. Supermarkets and food producers must do more.
Food isn’t the only area where we are wasteful. The so-called ‘fast fashion’ culture has put the fashion industry under pressure to change its ways.
Textiles dyeing is one of the biggest water polluters in the world and the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions. Sadly, one garbage truck of textiles is sent to landfills or incinerated, every second and 28.5 million metric tons of cotton is grown by 100 million farmers around the world. Globally, this counts for 5% of pesticides and 16-18% of insecticides use, the waste and by-products ending up in the world’s waterways.
It takes 10,000 litres of water to produce 1KG of cotton fabric.
I send our unwanted clothes to charity shops or sell them on. I know charity shops are often inundated with garments and they can sit in basements, left unsorted because no one can get through them all. I would rather know our old clothes have gone to someone new. It’s part of this circular economy idea that promotes a sense of community and sharing. It also helps stop things ending up in landfill because they can’t be put to good use.
When it comes to clothes and goods, we could all do to be more conscious of our purchases.
Ask yourself, do I need this? Because most of the time, it’s about the ‘want’ rather than the ‘need’. And our throw-away and fast-fashion society has promoted this for all it’s worth.
I love the way secondhand clothes and goods are more commonly promoted now as ‘pre-loved’. It’s the idea that you can pass on not only a product but a memory, in the hope the new owner will get as much out of the item as you did. I’m making the effort to do more of my shopping this way, led by my extremely conscious and impressionable teen and tween-age children, who are more than aware of what is going on in the world and keen to lead the way for change.
But this is a problem that is so vast, it sometimes feels beyond us. We can do our bit, sure, but there’s always the niggling feeling that it’s not enough. I often feel guilty about the extent of the problem and how what I do is so small a part of the solution. How can we do this alone? We can’t and it’s that simple. There has to be change on a massive scale and I hope the world is slowly waking up to that fact.