Every now and then, we are reminded of how casually we’re destroying our planet. It happens when you’re taking out the trash and don’t know exactly what goes in the recycling bin (soda cans, and uh, soda cans?). Or, you could carpool or take the train to work, but let’s be honest: that morning drive is your only chance at any “me” time. Or, when we look under the sink and see plastic bags from last year bundled in a corner. Let’s not hide it: we’re casually killing the earth with our daily habits.
What if we could find ways to modify our habits so that we sustain, rather than deplete, the earth's viability and resources? That’s the vision of a circular (or zero-waste) economy.
The circular economy is the antidote to our current "take-make-dispose" method of doing business: where we extract (take) resources from the earth, create a product, and then toss it as soon as it's filled a narrowly defined purpose (think plastic straws or soda bottles). Circularity is based on the principles of "designing out" waste and pollution; keeping products and materials in use; and regenerating natural systems. In a circular economy, suppliers, manufacturers, and end-users move away from consuming finite resources, and growth is redefined in terms of positive environmental and social outcomes.
In other words: an economy in which people and corporations recognize the value that still exists in the things they throw away.
Our planet gains the most from circular economic activities. By turning plastics into fuel, for example, we would reduce the currently staggering amount of plastic waste that enters our oceans. By adopting technologies to repurpose blended textiles, the kind found in much of our clothing, we could reduce the enormous pressure the current global textile industry puts on ecological resources.
But beyond the vision of a utopia of sustainability, the circularity makes great economic sense, for businesses, nations, and global workforces. The World Economic Forum estimates that circularity in manufacturing would save $630 billion per year in materials costs alone. In consumer industries that figure jumps to $700 billion. Take the case of textile hub Bangladesh, where scraps from factories could generate an additional $4 billion if remanufactured, bringing greater local employment opportunities for entry-level and semi-skilled laborers.
The type of systemic change needed to achieve the zero-waste vision of circularity might seem out of reach for individual consumers. But there are ways we can support it.
- The Cradle to Cradle Institute (created after the vision outlined in the eponymous book), is revolutionizing the way manufacturers make things. Consumers can visit their Certified Product Registry to find products that were built with reuse in mind.
- At Donii we are strong advocates for finding new homes for good quality unneeded items. But what about the not so good stuff? Research suggests that a lot of clothing waste - the stuff that ends up in landfills - gets there because people don't know that there are ways to donate these so that their fibers can be recycled. H&M's Garment Collecting Initiative, launched in 2013, does just that. After you watch their motivating video you'll be rushing your old rags to their nearest store.
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