Possibility for change
Apple releases a new iPhone so we ditch the old one, our television gets damaged so we buy another. As you can see, we as humans have adopted a linear system: we take, make and dispose. Each time we do this we’re using a limited supply of resources and producing toxic waste, this system is not sustainable. It simply can’t work long term, but what does mother nature do differently? When an animal dies in nature, its body decomposes and the soil absorbs the nutrients. The nutrients ensure crops to grow, for these to eventually be consumed by other animals. This biological cycle seems to have worked out fine the past billions of years, so maybe we should give something similar a try. Can we change our ways in daily life so that we too operate a circular economy, like mother nature?
Ellen MacArthur Foundation
One of the leading pioneers of circular economy is The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF). It’s a name that probably rings a bell with many of you; they work with big names like Google, H&M, Nike and Unilever. The EMF is a charity organization with the goal of stimulating the transition to a circular economy and to develop and realise feasible initiatives effectively at every scale.
Changing the culture
Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s main focus is to take care of products that don’t biodegrade such as plastic, your mobile phone or any other electronic hardware. Research has shown that only 14% of global plastic packaging is recyclable and annually 80~120 billion dollar worth of plastic packaging material is lost to the economy. This ‘throwaway-and-replace’ culture that we’ve become needs to be immediately be thrown away-and-replaced (pun intended) to a return-and-renew way of life/culture. We must find ways to reuse rare and valuable metals so they preserve their quality and are more useful for long-term purposes. Components and products needs to be redesigned so they’re easy to disassemble after they’re no longer useful.
Therefore, I would like to present you two projects of the EMF that are busy achieving this as we speak.
Licensing from the manufacturers
“What if we never actually owned our technologies? We simply license them from the manufacturers.” (starting from 2:18) This is one of the solution the Ellen MacArthur Foundation provide.
It might sound odd at first, I mean who doesn’t like to own things? We work hard for the products in our wishlist. However, here comes the interesting part: what if we combine the biological cycle of mother nature with our current way of producing technologies?
“Imagine if we could design products to come back to their makers. Their technical materials being reused and their biological parts increasing agricultural value. And imagine that these products are made and transported using renewable energy.” (starting from 2:29)
This ‘model’ as described in the video has been already been adopted by companies. Renting a fridge or any electronic hardware does sound pretty tempting now, does it not?
New Plastics Economy
To tackle the problem of plastics, the EMF initiated an ambitious project begin 2016: The New Plastics Economy. This is a 3 year plan: to create an effective after-use of plastics, decrease the leakage of plastics into natural systems and decouple plastics from fossil sources. Their report provides new facts about plastics and concludes that the understanding and knowledge of circular economy is tremendously growing by consumers, policymakers and business leaders. Opportunities in renewable sources, reprocessing and package design are discovered thanks to new technologies. Also, new policies for plastic design are being implemented. All these advices and implementations are vital to the circular economy.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a huge inspiration source of how Leiden can become a role model for circular economy in the Netherlands. I provided you with these two projects, but there are many others to be found on their website, which I highly recommend.
We have a fantastic opportunity to extend our perspectives and grasps new possibilities instead being stuck in the dissatisfaction of the present linear system. Let’s make Leiden a pioneer in the circular economy as well!