Time has felt strange during these uncertain global circumstances, which makes it all the more worthwhile to take a moment and consider new perspectives. Waste Reduction Week offers that opportunity, prompting us to reflect and rethink our trash. There are themed days from Monday through Sunday, ranging from Textiles to E-Waste, Shareable Economy to Plastics, and Swap & Repair. For this blog post, we’ll be focusing on Monday’s topic: Circular Economy.

First, what is a linear economy?

The things we use, like coffee pods or disposable toothbrushes, have their own lifecycle. These life cycles usually start at resource extraction, through manufacturing, sales , and usage, before reaching their disposal stage. In a linear economy, the product’s life begins at one point and ends at the other.

Take a raw material, make something, use it, and dispose it; that is a linear economy.

Waste Reduction Week Canada, 2020
Designed by Ella Sabourin

What’s wrong with that?

Linear economies revolve around short-term gains instead of long-term sustainability. There are scientifically-proven biological consequences to this type of corrupt extraction of resources. We are living in a climate emergency, and taking more and more without replenishing or restoring it, just won’t cut it.

What is a circular economy?

Circular economies work differently. Their principals include caring for the planet and one another. Circular economies focus on working with recyclable materials that do not get thrown away after a single use. Take, for example, a metal water bottle versus a plastic water bottle. The metal bottle will last longer and can be made up of recycled material. Through plastic bottles can be recycled, they still create a buildup of disposable resources and are not sustainable.

This type of economy also encourages buying refurbished products and having accessible refurbishing and repair services. For a circular economy to function, producers and product designers have to consider the lifespan and reparability of their creations. Imagine a computer where users can access hardware, to repair and upgrade systems over time, versus a computer with inaccessible hardware. This demonstrates the strategy of designing products to last a short period, otherwise known as planned obsolescence; therefore, ensuring consumers will have to replace them with time. Circular economies design products with repair in mind, so products last much longer.

Another core principal is “Access over Ownership.” Circular economies value the use of shared programs including tool libraries, bike shares, and public transit. In a library, members can access thousands of books. Now, compare that with how many books you could squeeze in a bookshelf. Shared resources can enrich our knowledge and provide a wealth of creative work to explore through access to public goods.

When we consider the problems with our linear economy, there’s often the urge to put the responsibility of change on each individual. One example we’ve all heard is the push to move from plastic straws to paper. Of course, when possible, it makes sense to use a compostable straw, but that narrative framing obscures the scale of the climate crisis. In fact, just 100 companies are responsible for 71 per cent of global emissions (CDP Carbon Majors Report, 2017). No amount of paper straws will change those emissions.

It’s so much more encouraging to think about circular economies through the lens of policy, advocacy, accountability, and guidelines. There should be regulations and legislation to make products that can be fixed, and banning planning obsolescence in favour of consumers’ right-to-repair.

Designed by Ella Sabourin

What you can do

Now it’s clear that most individuals are not accountable for the enormity of the climate crisis, it is still worth investigating the role we all can and should play going forward in this global emergency. Step one: Learn! The best way to start anything is by deepening your understanding. The book “A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal” offers an insightful, science-driven approach to the core crises we face and policies that can build towards a safer future, for everyone. Marginalized groups often bear the brunt of climate injustice, and this book recognizes those realities with an empathetic perspective. Step two: Discuss! Share your thoughts and get involved. Write, share, organize, protest, email, and take action.

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