As a species, humans are quite something.
If we put the whole of Earth’s history so far into a single 24-hour time period with the big bang at the start of the day, humans would only turn up just before midnight – right at the end – and yet look at what we have achieved!
For a relatively juvenile species, we’ve done a lot in a staggeringly short period of time. We are the most developed and the most dominant force on this planet.
We are the powerful outliers.
But this is sort of the problem.
Whilst the natural world can live in relative balance and harmony with itself (and did so for a LONG time before we rocked up), we – the outliers – are the ones creating havoc.
We can see the effects of our actions worldwide from biodiversity collapse and ocean acidification to extreme weather systems and climate change intensified wildfires.
How to adopt the circular economy
Fortunately, we still have some time to learn and adapt, so why don’t we rebuild to work in the same ways as Nature?
This is the essence of a circular economy.
Rather than the current ‘cradle to grave’ linear system of take, make, use, dispose that us humans have come to see as normal, we should be working in connected loops and systems with no waste.
We’re the only one that works in that linear way, remember. That is system of the outlier.
We need to move from ‘business as usual’ to ‘business unusual’ and reimagine how we can work
So how do we start?
Ok, this is where it gets a little tricky.
Moving off that linear path we began forging around 260 years with the start of the Industrial Revolution is a challenge for sure, but now is the time and we are at the critical junction.
We need to move from ‘business as usual’ to ‘business unusual’ and reimagine how we can work. Fortunately, we all play a vital part.
Of course, some of you may be reading this whilst sitting in the role of a politician, or policymaker.
Maybe you’re a CEO of a retail brand or a logistics or energy consultant and can see EXACTLY how the circular economy can be applied to your professional life or sector.
But it is quite likely you’re not in any of these roles – and whilst we often hear ‘well what difference can one person make anyway?’ the answer is, well, quite a lot actually.
Individual action can have an impact
The responsibility of sorting out the mess we find ourselves in and creating a circular economy does not solely lie with us as individuals – that is the job of industry and governments working together across historical borders to create transformative change to our systems of living, trading and working, but personal actions help nudge things along.
Many a policy has been created following public uproar and demand for something better.
But, individual actions are also easily multiplied across all scales of our society.
Just like the interconnected strands of a spiders’ web, it just needs that starting twitch to get things moving across the board…
How to make your own circular economy web
So what can we do?
Well, we can think about what we already do that is ‘circular’ in our lives and map it out just like that spider’s web, with each strand representing a circular sector – from Refuse to Regeneration.
Each strand is linked to the next, but each of us can connect them in different ways.
Here’s a blank web to get you started so you can see what I mean.
Now for each strand subject, have a look at the ideas below, think about where you are now, and mark it with pen on the scale of 1-10 on the corresponding strand.
If you are awesome at something, give yourself a 10.
Know nothing about a subject, down at zero.
Do a bit, but could do and want to do more – maybe that’s a five.
So looking at all those R’s, how do they connect up in your life now?
Here are a few ideas to help:
Refuse, Reduce, Reuse – how much ‘stuff’ do you consume? Do you say no to single-use items? Are you actively trying to reduce your food waste, car trips, meat intake? Is your reusable coffee cup and bag a permanent fixture in your rucksack?
Repair – if something breaks, can you fix it? Do you know where to take it if it does? Do you make your purchase choices based on repairability?
Refill – Do you know where your local refill store is? If so, have you tried it? And if you do, is there anything else you can refill – like laundry liquid, trail mix – even vegan protein powder?
(Check out Plastic Free Shopping: 100+ Best Zero Waste Stores in UK to help get you started).
(How To Support Fairtrade Fortnight With These 9 Brands is a good place to start).
Recycle – this is likely the one that you are pretty ok with, but think about all the instances you may need to recycle, at home, at work, when on the go…
Resources – where do you get your power from? On a green energy tariff, or perhaps you have solar panels on your roof? Do you actively look for products that offer a take-back system, or that include a recycled content?
Regenerate – does your local authority offer a home composting system, or do you have your own if you’re lucky enough to have a garden? Donate money to a tree-planting charity, or try and purchase as much organic produce as possible.
Regulate and Restructure – are you pretty clued up about the Paris Agreement, the latest IPCC report, the Circular Economy Action Plan? Or are you involved with grassroots organisations calling for change in your local area, from water quality to power generation? (If you want some help and support here, join Ripples by pebble – our digital community for sustainable changemakers, it’s free!)
These are all just starting points, but hopefully, you will be able to use them to give yourself a score out of ten, with a little dot on that blank web.
And it’s not about doing something perfectly – far from it.
If you’ve not got many high scoring sections, that is completely ok – this is your own web, showing where you are now.
So go ahead and join those dots.
You will have something that looks a little like this:
Time to take action
And now to begin.
Now you know where you are with each of our circular economy strands, you can see what perhaps you could learn more about, what interests you and how you can push that dot a little higher.
Low on Repair?
Maybe head to the next repair café in your town and learn how to fix your busted blender, or watch some online guides on how to sew on a button. This is your web – and your journey into circularity.
But the really cool thing?
Each of our webs will be different, but if we were to overlay them all, we would have a complete circle of 10’s… So why not share your webs and start a conversation?
Tag them with #mycirculareconomyweb and @pebblemagazine and let’s see what we can achieve by working together, like the natural world.
Now that’s a future to aim for.
Claire Potter teaches at the University of Sussex where she is head of Product Design and has run her own award-winning design and consultancy studio in a circular way since 2008.
She speaks about the circular economy at conferences and events around the world and in her spare time, is a volunteer Regional Rep for UK marine charity, Surfers Against Sewage and a Working Group Co-ordinator at the Global Ghost Gear Initiative.
Her book Welcome to the Circular Economy is published by Laurence King at £14.99.