People have clicked on to the fact that when we throw things away, there is no “away”. The desire for change on waste is happening right now. We’re no longer spending our time trying to convince people that we need to tackle waste; we’re spending it helping people who want to know how to move on from the linear Make-Use-Dispose model to a circular economy.
The circular economy describes a regenerative economic system, in which there is no waste. Materials and products are maintained, repaired, reused and refurbished to keep them in use for as long as possible before being recaptured through quality recycling or composting systems.
The circular economy is based on three principles (and is also underpinned by a shift to renewable energy):
Design out waste and pollution
Keep products and materials in use
Regenerate natural systems
Materials are split into two cycles: technical and biological. Biological is anything to do with food, plants, animals or other biologically based materials. Materials in the biological loop are returned to natural systems through composting or anaerobic digesters. Materials in the technical cycle are designed to be used as long as possible in their current form (through maintenance, repair, reuse and refurbishment), and then finally are recycled.
In a circular economy companies must base decisions on the whole life-cycle of the product. They must take responsibility to design their products for longevity, upgrading, repair and recycling. It’s fundamentally different to the Make-Use-Dispose model, which doesn’t encourage producers to take responsibility for the end-of-life. In fact, under our current system, it makes financial sense to build in planned obsolescence and shorter life spans which force customers to turn over products rapidly.
The benefits are not just environmental, but economic. A Sustainable Business Network report found that Auckland will be $8.8 billion better off each year by 2030 if it makes the shift to a circular economy.
It’s exciting, but it won’t happen by itself. We need to act right now to make sure that everyone’s on board, by:
· increasing the waste levy
· introducing a container refund system for bottles and drink cans
· moving away from co-mingled recycling to systems focused on quality