Reuse

Embracing Circularity

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s official body for the assessment of climate change, spells it out quite clearly: humans are unequivocally increasing greenhouse gas emissions to record levels that are inconsistent with a future on this planet, AND we have the tools to turn it around if we act swiftly across all sectors. To keep warming within 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, global greenhouse gas emissions must decline by around 21% by 2030 and around 35% by 2035. The greatest opportunity for impact comes when we embrace systems change at the highest levels, and to embrace effective systems change, we must stop thinking linearly and start thinking in terms of circularity. So what exactly does that mean? What makes circularity different from sustainability? Isn’t circularity just recycling? How do we know if we’re succeeding? To take a deep dive into answering these important questions, we would love to share a guest blog post penned by Circularity Analyst Kori Goldberg. This post first appeared in the February 10th edition of the Green Biz Circularity Weekly Newsletter and has been shared with the author’s permission:

Question 1: How is circularity different from sustainability?

If you’ve ever taken a sustainability course, you likely have come across the following definition, from the 1987 United Nations Brundtland Commission: Sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainability generally strives to reduce impacts on people and the planet as compared to the status quo — say a baseline of previous operations or the industry standard. The ambition for sustainability has grown since 1987, but in too many cases, sustainability is still seen as “doing less bad.” As Joel Makower puts it, “There’s little honor in ravaging the planet incrementally less.”

The circular economy is a systems approach that answers one “how” in our quest for sustainability. For simplicity, the circular economy is often described through a juxtaposition with the traditional “take-make-waste” system we are all familiar with, the linear economy. Unlike a linear system in which raw materials are extracted, transformed into products and then turned into waste with little regard to environmental, social and even economic externalities, a circular model aims to keep materials in the system at their highest value for as long as possible.

Sustainability is often considered an addition to an entity’s collective practices to improve the whole. Circularity, in contrast, must sit at the core of operations, aiming for profitability while simultaneously addressing global issues such as pollution, nature and biodiversity loss and climate change. Given the pervasiveness of linear economic models, circularity often requires a rebuilding of systems, business models and operations from the ground up. As a prominent thought leader in circularity, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation organizes the circular economy under three design-driven principles:

  1. Eliminate waste and pollution
  2. Circulate products and materials (at their highest value)
  3. Regenerate nature

The success of the circular economy at a systemic level depends on other global shifts: namely, the transition to renewable energy and a steady supply of responsibly sourced renewable material.

In summary: Circularity has a specific focus on the cycling of resources, lessening both our material use and waste to support a healthy planet. Sustainability deals in broader and more general efforts to reduce social, environmental and economic impact across an entity’s operations.

Question 2: Is circularity just recycling?

Given that circularity is all about keeping materials in use, at their highest value, for as long as possible, it’s natural to wonder if this just means recycling. And while this isn’t necessarily the wrong way to think about it, there’s some nuance here to be parsed out.

Circularity is, in fact, all about cycling materials repeatedly — so in this sense, recycling. This is in contrast to the way in which this term is more often used: to describe the industrial process of turning waste into new products. The latter type of recycling — for example, collecting plastic packaging and mechanically sorting, shredding, washing and reprocessing this plastic into new packaging — is actually one of the lower-priority strategies in the circular economy model.

Let’s back up a bit.

Integral to the circular economy are feedback loops, whereby products and materials are recirculated through the system. In nature, feedback loops nourish and add value to ecosystems. Take a tree that drops its leaves in the fall. These leaves decompose, feeding microbes and returning nutrients to the soil where they’ll be reabsorbed by another plant in search of nutrients.

In the biological cycle, renewable materials such as agricultural waste are recycled through the system through processes such as composting or anaerobic digestion. In the technical cycle, reuse, repair and recycling allow non-biodegradable materials to recirculate through the economy. This is demonstrated through the so-called “Butterfly Diagram,” seen below.

Photo Credit: The Butterfly Diagram. Image from The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Designing our economic system with robust feedback loops to mimic nature is revolutionary; since the industrial revolution, we have built a system that forces nature to fit our economy rather than fitting our economy into nature.

Strategies such as increasing the durability of products, new business models that offer sharing, reusing, refurbishing and remanufacturing should be higher-priority strategies than recycling for many industries — from fashion to packaging to electronics.

There is a misconception that the circular economy is just a form of waste management or materials recovery. In reality, it is a model for a flourishing economy that minimizes waste as a natural byproduct of its inherent design of feedback loops that restore technical materials and regenerate biological materials.

Question 3: Degrowth and reduced consumption are tenets of the circular economy. How do we measure success?

As this is the hardest question to answer, I’ll respond with yet more questions. Is growth always good? Is growth the best thing to measure?

The success of global and regional economies have historically been measured by one single indicator, gross domestic product (GDP). But if current and future generations are to thrive within planetary boundaries, we must reimagine how we define progress and opportunity. This is the underlying rationale for the development of “doughnut economics,” a visual model for sustainable growth.

By DoughnutEconomics – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75695171

 

The model resembles a doughnut where the doughnut ring itself represents a safe and just space for humans to exist within. Inside the ring (the doughnut hole) represents a situation in which people lack essential social necessities such as healthcare, education and political voice. Meanwhile, the outside of the doughnut (the crust) represents ecological boundaries beyond which earth’s natural systems are under threat. This model provides a revolutionary way to understand prosperity and set goals for humanity. According to this model, prosperity can be achieved when we are situated in the middle ring, neither overshooting planetary boundaries nor lacking the necessary social foundations for all people. As Kate Raworth, founder of Doughnut Economics, has said, “A healthy economy should be designed to thrive, not grow.”

I hope this essay helps you pause and remember the bigger picture. As you orient yourself in your role towards the larger, systemic goals we are collectively trying to achieve, take heart that you’re part of an exciting, growing community working to do the same.

Interested in learning more about the circular economy? Subscribe to the free Circularity Weekly newsletter and be sure to sign up for our April 19th Co-op Class on Zero Waste Strategies with Ben Kogan of Reusable Solutions! We’re looking forward to this empowering conversation where we’ll explore opportunities to reduce our personal impact on this planetary problem, highlighting circular systems of reuse. 

Tips For Remembering Your Shopping Bags

We’ve all been there. You’re patiently waiting in the check-out line, hoping you’ve managed to remember to pick up everything you need to make meals for the next few days, and then it hits you – your reusable bags are back at home hanging on the hook in the mudroom. Or maybe they’re balled up in the trunk of your car. Or they’re stuffed in the cargo basket on your bike. Either way, they’re not where you need them to be in this critical moment. What’s an eco-conscious consumer to do? We felt inspired by these handy tips from the folks at Best Market:

Have a Large Selection

It’s easiest to remember your bags if there are a number to choose from! More bags mean more areas to strategically place them so you don’t forget. Which brings us to our next point-

Strategic Placement

 Some favorite places include a cupboard in the kitchen, a hook or basket near the front door, tucked between your center console and seat in the car, stashed away in your purse, and anywhere else you could grab them on the go.

Make it a Habit

They say it takes 21 days to make a habit of something – let’s apply this to shopping with reusable bags. With a little determination, remembering your bags when you go shopping will become second nature. You can’t expect for it to become part of your routine overnight, but with persistence, you’ll soon have a system in place that works for you.

Make it Convenient

With the push for major change in our environmental impact, reducing, reusing, and recycling have become businesses of their own. This has given way to all-new ways to make remembering your bags even easier, including bags small enough to attach to your keychain and bags small enough to fit in your purse or pocket.

Put it on Your List

Until your habit is formed, make BAGS the first item you write on your grocery list.

Remind Yourself

Leave yourself notes schedule alerts or reminders on your phone around the time you are planning to leave.

Make it Personal

Try sewing or knitting or crocheting your own bags. You can even put some of those old t-shirts to good use with this helpful how-to!

 

 

Involve Your Family

If your kids go shopping with you, explain why you want to take your special bags, and ask them to be in charge of helping you remember to bring them along. It gives them a job and gives you an opportunity to teach them about minimizing waste and caring for the planet.

Put Them Back

Almost the trickiest part! The groceries are away and it’s dinner time – don’t forget to put your bags back in their strategic place.

 

Of course, if you forget your shopping bags, another handy option at the Co-op is to grab a box. While unpacking orders, we stockpile a supply of boxes that we invite you to repurpose for carrying home your groceries. You’ll find them along the wall near the first register.

 

 

 

Reducing and Reusing Before Recycling

Significant progress has been made since the development of modern recycling programs in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Most in our community have access to curbside recycling services and we’re rarely more than a few steps away from a recycling bin, even in public places. Thanks to streamlined all-in-one recycling services offered by the Addison County Solid Waste Management District which save us from having to sort our recyclables, it’s safe to say that recycling is pretty darned convenient these days. So convenient, in fact, that we might have forgotten about those other two “R’s.” We all know that recycling is the right thing to do, but perhaps we could use a reminder that the most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place.

Recycling an item definitely beats sending it to the landfill, but it still takes a significant amount of energy to recycle an item and transform it into something “new.” As a result, reduction and reuse are the most effective ways you can save natural resources, protect the environment and save money.

The Benefits of Reducing & Reusing:

  • Prevent pollution caused by reducing the need to harvest new raw materials.
  • Save energy.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change.
  • Save money.
  • Reduce the amount of waste that will need to be recycled or sent to landfills and incinerators.
  • Allow products to be used to their fullest extent.

Ideas to Help You Reduce & Reuse

  • Buy used and refurbished when possible. You can find everything from clothes to electronics to building materials at specialized reuse centers, architectural salvage yards, and consignment shops. Often, used items are less expensive and just as good as new. Middlebury has several wonderful thrift stores and if you’re in Burlington, be sure to check out ReSOURCE.
  • Look for products that use less packaging. When manufacturers make their products with less packaging, they use less energy and fewer raw materials. This reduces waste and costs. These extra savings are often passed along to the consumer.
  • Buy in bulk. When you bring your own containers to buy bulk items, you save packaging waste and you can also save money. At the Co-op, you can bring your own container to buy foods such as flour, grains, maple syrup, and honey in the Bulk department; soaps, lotion, and bath salts in the Wellness department; on-tap beverages such as kombucha, coffee, and tea; and Deli items from the salad bar or hot bar.
  • Buy items that are reusable rather than disposable and incorporate reusable items into your daily routines. For example, you can bring your own silverware and coffee mug to work and bring your own shopping bags to the store.
  • Maintain and repair products clothing, tiresand appliances, so that they won’t have to be disposed of and replaced as frequently. Think quality over quantity when purchasing these kinds of items.
  • Borrow, rent, or share items that are used infrequently, such as party decorations, tools or furniture. Front Porch Forum is a handy resource.
  • Think twice before discarding an item. Consider alternative uses. The mesh bag your citrus came in can be reused for future produce purchases and that empty two-liter bottle can make a fun hanging planter.
  • Plan ahead.Planning your weekly meals in advance, utilizing leftovers, and shopping the refrigerator first are great ways to reduce food waste. For more tips on reducing food waste, click here.
  • Donate gently used items whenever possible. You can drop them off at a thrift store, or consignment shop, or you can post them to Front Porch Forum. Let your trash be someone else’s treasure!