What Is The Circular Economy?
With another successful Zero Waste Week, it seems to be a good time to reflect on where this is going. Where are these initiatives taking us? Should I care? And if I do care, how can I get involved?
Well, there are many answers to these questions. One potential scenario is a hard Brexit that would ruin our positive steps (let’s leave this topic for a later date!) What is more hopeful, is a scenario where these initiatives take us towards a new, prosperous economic model. This model will allow us to live in better balance between people, animals and the planet. This new economic model is called a Circular Economy.
Now, before we jump in and share some of the treats that circular businesses are offering, it is worth breaking down: what is the circular economy, why the hell does this matter to you and how can you get more involved?
Circular Economy 101
So, first things first – the circular economy can be described as the move from a world of “Buy – Use – Throw away” to a model of “Buy or Hire – Use it – then send it back to upgrade”. At its core, the new economic model takes a sassy approach to waste. Yes, you read that right – this new model finds value in rubbish! Instead of looking at waste as something to manage and send into land fill, there are new creative examples of using waste as something of value.
One of the leading organisations paving a way to make the Circular Economy a reality is The Ellen McCarther Foundation. They define a Circular Economy as “looking beyond the current take, make and dispose extractive industrial model, the circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design.” Now this last part is key to a circular model. Not only are we not throwing stuff away, but we are also seeking to restore the economic, natural and social capital across systems.
In practice, this means looking at industries such as fashion in new ways. For example, you can now rent your wedding guest outfit via platforms such as Wear the Walk. Or send clothes back and get some money off your next purchase from apps such as reGAIN where you can turn unwanted clothes into discounts. And there are now even more brands using recycled materials.
VIGGA is another great example – it is a Danish company which tackles the problem of the fast outgrown of children’s clothing. The company asks the question “What if clothes could grow with your child?”. They then provide a winning service that allows parents to lease maternity and children’s wear, which saves time, money and resources.
Why Is The Circular Economy Important
So, by this point I am sure you are thinking, “this great but why should I care?”. Or some people say to me: “I am only one person, I am not exactly going to make much of a difference, am I?”
Sure – I totally get it. I had this point of view for so many years. During those times I enjoyed the instant feeling when I bowled out of “Primani” (aka Primark) with as many bags of clothes as I could carry. Or another favorite of mine involved going into MAC cosmetics on a Saturday just to buy make up to match the outfit I was wearing that evening.
Now, I certainly do still love a colour match with the make up that I already have. And I am by no means saying that we shouldn’t enjoy our fashion choices. But rather, we can look at what we have and get more out of it than always going in for more – especially when it is not needed.
More broadly, we need to re-think how we interact with our fashion choices and the system around us. It’s fine for us today but it’s our children and their children that we need to think about and act upon.
Please note: this is not a hippy or doomsday pitch, the statistics about where we are at speak for themselves:
• In Europe and Northern America there is 15 million tonnes of textile waste, basically the weight of 4 million elephants.
• Every year we are using 1.7 Earths. We use more earth resources than nature can regenerate through overfishing, overharvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than ecosystems can absorb.
• We have lost 50% of all wildlife in 40 years
• There is an estimated 20 to 30 million slaves across the world today. It is hard to count the exact numbers of a hidden population. 90% of women and children who end up as Sex Slaves were victims of childhood sexual abuse before they were recruited.
Now, I am not an accountant or an economist but those numbers do not add up. These statistics do not paint a picture of a future where the next generations can thrive. In fact, it paints quite the opposite.
All is not lost. We have the capacity to create real change now. In fact, it is already underway. As an example, let’s take the myth that one-person can’t make a difference. Look at the plastic straw phenomena. Pockets of people across the world saw David Attenborough’s Blue Planet about the widespread issues of plastics in our oceans. This was coupled with a growing consciousness about our oceans and our impact on the planet. Which in turn, led to what I am calling “a plastic straw tipping point”.
All sudden, most bars you go into in Shoreditch or Hackney in London is either has a sign asking you “do you really need a straw?” or they give you a recycled cardboard equivalent.
It did not take long for the big corporates to quickly seize the brownie points and marched in with commitments and initiatives to ban plastic straws across the world. Some took more to persuade than others, but the tipping point already took a hold of customer consciousness. One customer campaign took on McDonalds in the UK. The result: McDonalds has now committed to changing their global supply chain to remove plastic straws in the U.K as early as next year!
Not only that, there are now loads of sustainable swimwear brands removing plastic waste from the oceans and recycling it into great pieces.
Protest With Your Purchases
While plastic straws are literally a drop in the ocean when it comes to talking about ocean pollution, it is truly amazing to see such quick mobilisation to create real change in a short amount of time. This proves that individuals and small groups can make big impacts. It just takes small steps and conversations to create feedback effects.
With all of this in mind, do you want to take some small steps with us?
Compare Ethics has created a comparison website that is a safe space to buy ethical fashion. We also made a ranking methodology that celebrates best practice. Quite simply the more circular the product is the higher it ranks on the page! Making it easy to compare, style, price and ethics from one platform – giving you both choice and confidence.
It doesn’t stop here – in fact, this is just the beginning! We are taking the platform to new circular levels – sign up to our newsletter for the latest updates.