A circular economy is a system in which humans use the resources that have already been extracted from the earth, or those that are naturally renewable, to meet their existing and future needs. Unfortunately, a convenience culture and single-use mentality has come to dominate the design of a lot of products and services we see today.
As individuals there are a number of strategies we can adopt to reduce the amount of waste created by our consumerist society.
1. Make use of what we already have:
Rethink and reduce – before buying something new, question why we need it and whether there is an alternative solution. For example, if it’s a tool for a one-off job, do we know someone who could lend it to us? The next best option is to purchase second hand, and with the abundance of second-hand market places like eBay, Freecycle and Gumtree, there is often more choice than you think! Lastly, don’t forget to question whether you need it at all – sometimes the things we already have will do just fine with a bit of creativity and adaptation.
Refuse – make a habit of turning down unnecessary ‘stuff’! If you’re offered a bag at the till, or a promotional product that you don’t need, just say no. Packaging is also a key one here – if there’s an option to buy food without it, try and make that choice to send a message to shops that we don’t need or want it.
Reuse – make a conscious effort to reject single-use items and get into the habit of treating everything as reusable. If you’ve bought bread in a plastic bag or had a takeaway, use the containers as a freezer bag or box before you throw it away; save envelopes that haven’t been damaged in the post; and make a habit of taking refillable drinks containers when you’re out and about. All these small things add up to reduce the volume of waste in landfill and reduce the need for raw materials to produce new products.
Refurbish – it’s amazing what a bit of sanding and lick of paint can do to an old garden table or bench! Always stop to question whether a good clean and a bit of TLC might be the answer to give a redundant possession a new lease of life.
Repair – increasingly, regulation is driving a greater need for manufacturers to continue producing spare parts and components beyond the lifespan of a product. If you have a broken appliance, electronic device or other equipment, check with the manufacturer whether they still make replacement parts.
Repurpose – many tired pieces of furniture, over-used food containers or cracked crockery can make perfect storage options for the loft or shed, not to mention rustic planters or bug hotels! Equally, something that might be useless to you could be of value to someone else – Freecycle is a great option to advertise unwanted items because when you’re giving something away for free the expectation is that it’s not in perfect condition.
2. Be a conscious consumer
If we do need to buy something new, we can ask ourselves some simple questions before purchasing to help make sure our choices support methods of production and consumption that are healthier for our society and the planet:
- Is it worth spending a little bit more on something that will last longer than the cheapest option – for example a metal washing up bowl could outlast a plastic one by over a decade!
- If it’s something that will inevitably get worn out with use, is it made from materials that will eventually rot? For example, pick a bamboo scrubbing brush over a plastic one.
- Is this the most efficient and economical way of purchasing the product – for example buying dried foods or concentrated cleaning products (rather than pouches of pre-cooked rice and grains or full bottles of solution) means we are significantly reducing packaging per use, and significantly reducing the carbon footprint of supply-chain transportation given the reduction in water being transported.
- Does this item have the option to repair and replace component parts? Brands like Fairphone produce mobile phones where all the components are removable and replaceable, offering the opportunity to significantly extend the life of the core product.
- Is there a choice of material that will have a lower environmental impact – textile production produces more greenhouse gas emissions than shipping and aviation combined! Therefore we should favour textiles that will be long lasting and look out for any commitments to sustainable production or certification. Better still, buy second hand wherever possible to reduce the need for new textile production in the first place.
- Is the item compatible with things you already own & use – for example, can you buy a tool or electronic device without additional batteries, cables and chargers by identifying compatibility with something you already own.
Championing the circular economy is something we can all do, and something we can help each other to achieve by sharing ideas and continuing to commit to support businesses like True Food whose values align with the goal of creating a thriving planet for a healthier society.
If you have further ideas to share please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org