Picture credit: Supermarket News

Each year, we produce approximately 2.2 billion tonnes of waste globally. This amount of garbage could fill Wembley Stadium over 2,800 times. According to the World Bank Group, this number is set to double by 2025, and double again every 25 years. These predictions sound like doomsday, but it is not too late to turn ourselves around. According to the London Waste and Resources Action Plan (WRAP), the rate of recycling in the UK in 2010 was 11%. It is now well over 40% and over 50% in Wales. Recycling alone, however, isn’t sufficient, what’s required is more human behaviour change and a radical rethink of resource management systems.

Our world runs on a “take, make, dispose” mindset which strips the planet of its natural resources and piles more and more toxic waste into landfills. In contrast to the traditional linear dynamics of consumerism, the circular economy enables products and materials to be reused by humans or to be returned to Mother Earth, in a virtuous, closed cycle. However, the reuse economy applies to only 9.1% of the UK economy right now. Therefore, the goal of this Earth Day article is to show you, individual, how you can begin participating in the Circular Economy.

Source — PYXERA Global

The goal of the circular economy is for human consumption to achieve zero waste in order to minimise depletion of natural resources and damage to the environment. Its three basic principles are minimising waste and pollution, extending the useful life of products or materials and regenerating natural systems.

How YOU can participate in the circular economy

Minimise waste and pollution

While most individuals can’t realistically redesign business models or manufacturing processes, there are many ways to join in the circular economy.

The best and most obvious way to eliminate waste is to stop consuming. Do you REALLY need that new iPhone/handbag/jumper? We continue to buy fast fashion yet the average Briton wears only 44% of the clothes in their closet. When buying groceries, buy only what you intend to consume. Globally, we actually end up throwing away 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste per year — about a third of food produced. (And of course, bring your own shopping bags when you shop for groceries.) Following on the huge success of the plastic bag levy, Starbucks is currently piloting a cup levy at selected outlets in the UK in order to encourage its customers to bring their own cups, an excellent example of how simple system redesign (charging for a cup) can awaken consumers’ consciences and induce behavior change.

Part and parcel of minimizing your personal waste and pollution is reducing fuel and electricity consumption, e.g., turning off the light when you leave the room, riding a bike to work instead of driving, car pooling, etc. If you’re reading this article, you’re likely to be engaged in some form of personal, environmentally-conscious behavior, e.g., carrying a reusable shopping bag, separating your household waste, taking more public transportation. But have you addressed one of your biggest, most glaring forms of energy consumption? We refer to your household consumption of electricity. If you haven’t done so already, call your energy supplier to obtain a FREE smart meter. Incorporated in 2013, Smart Energy GB is the nonprofit tasked with alerting the public that every household in Great Britain can get a smart meter installed FREE. All customers must be offered a smart meter by 2020, but despite nearly everyone one knowing about them, many people have yet to get one installed! (There are thousands more of tips like this one on the internet so we will leave you with that one big to-do item. In comparison, not much has been written about how an individual can participate in the circular economy, so without further ado….)

Keep materials in use

Before you throw something away (or buy a brand new replacement item), have you tried to repair it — or just clean it? When surveyed about why they were throwing away clothing, the UK’s fastest growing waste stream, 49% of Britons said they were “worn out or dirty,” not to mention in need of repair. If you’re willing to darn, this is one of the best blogs about clothing repairs we’ve ever seen. There are also professional services to restore knitwear and leather accessories (shoes, handbags, etc.). While the latter may not be cheap, repairs of well-made clothes and accessories which were originally bought to wear long term (as opposed to fast fashion) will still cost a lot less than buying replacements.

If you do ultimately throw out that piece of clothing, do NOT send it to landfill, please donate it to the charity shop nearest you. And for sure, tell the men in your life to do the same! (82% of men bin unwanted clothing compared to 69% of women.) Believe it or not, 16% of Britons just can’t be bothered to donate to charity shops citing “no time to sort or drop off” as their defense. Don’t let that be you.

For non-apparel, donate it using Freecycle, the world’s biggest consumer-to-consumer marketplace of free items, with over 9 million members divided into local sub-communities. Members can list items they’re seeking or wish to donate. Then, to coordinate pickup and collection, donors and takers communicate directly. (If your office needs to get rid of multiple items, say, “34 filing cabinets”, consider listing it on Globechain, the B2B reuse platform enabling companies to donate unwanted equipment, furniture, construction materials, medical equipment and retail fixtures to thousands of charities around the UK.)

Besides reuse and donation, upcycling is another option if you’re crafty. Some great blogs in this space are Upcycle DZineUpcycle Studio Blog, and Upcycle That and among the best upcyclers on Instagram are @Upcyclers.at@Upcyclethat and @Upcycle.ae. (Even if you can’t imagine fashioning lamps out of vehicle registration plates, these upcyclers will inspire and delight you with their ingenuity.)

Last but not least, RECYCLE of course. If you haven’t already, request recycling sacks from your local council ASAP. It’s as simple as using those sacks and putting them out for pick up on the designated days of the month. Last year in England, 48% of waste was recycled but that is still significantly below Germany’s rate of 56%. These differences could be due in part to Germany’s recycling incentives but England is soon following suit. England’s environmental secretary recently promised to introduce “reverse vending machines” which will accept used bottles in exchange for small amounts of cash.

If you must buy a new item, consider purchasing it refurbished or secondhand. Not only will you do the right thing by the environment but it’s cheaper. Many household name brands such as Apple, HP, Sony and Cannon recycle electronics and sell certified refurbished products with a warranty through well-known retailers such as AmazonNewegg and Crutchfield. Look for “factory-refurbished” products backed by warranties and return policies instead of items restored by third party sellers. If you’re tempted to buy from the latter, check online reviews to ensure that their products and after-sales service are professional and reliable. If a factory refurb is too expensive, you can purchase a second-hand version from a well-reviewed seller on Gumtree, Craigslist, Preloved or Ebay.

Apply the same mentality to shopping for fashion and accessories and shop at your neighborhood charity shop or, if you’re a diehard fashionista, The RealReal could be the discovery of your life. It’s one of the world’s biggest marketplaces for pre-owned designer gear for both men and women.

Soon, there will be rental schemes for wardrobes, so that you won’t have to buy new clothing and accessories at all. In the US, Gwynnie Bee offers larger-size women the option to rent and swap clothing up to a certain value on a monthly basis. Similarly, a Danish babywear brand replaces your baby’s wardrobe as he or she grows larger. While these schemes have yet to be offered by the fast-fashion retailers whose clothes are mainly responsible for clogging up our landfills, the consumer can look forward to new paradigms of use and ownership for clothing in the near future. Luxury fine jewelry and high fashion can already be rented at Flont and RentTheRunway, so it’s only a matter of time before such business models appear on the high street.

Regenerate natural systems

For those items which can’t realistically be repurposed, for example, food waste, return them to where they came from originally, the earth, by composting. Home waste in the UK is roughly 30–50% compostable. That’s 30 to 50% of your waste that doesn’t have to end up in landfill if you follow these simple steps.

First, it is important to determined what can be be composted. These items range from the obvious, fruits, vegetables and leftovers, to items which you may not have thought of, for example, old loofahs or towels. Here is a great list of over 100 items you can (and should) compost. Next, you must find something to put your compostable items in until you are ready to take them outside. Consider biodegradable bags or a lidded container for collecting waste indoors, and a wooden bin or tumbler for your garden. An outdoor composting container is good for trapping heat and helps your compost break down quickly. For those of you who don’t live in a city, you can literally return this type of waste to the land.

There are options for city dwellers as well but they vary. Some cities offer food waste recycling and pickup for individual buildings subject to their approval. London is such an example. Failing that, there are paid services which can collect your food waste or you can drop off your compost bucket at one of the local gardening or recycling centre which welcomes such donations.

Going beyond what you can do as an individual vis-a-vis your and your household’s buying and waste disposal habits, you can also support the circular economy by buying products manufactured according to CE principles, telling friends and family about how to participate in the circular economy and encouraging your employer or company to introduce such practices into their processes.

In our next blog posts, we will talk about how businesses are putting circular economy principles into action across a gamut, from fully closed loop businesses (where new items are made from the waste of the very same items) to businesses taking baby steps in the circular economy. We hope you will keep on following us because this post is just the tip of the iceberg.

Happy Earth Day 2018!

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