The abundance that surrounds us is endless. Visual stimuli are the ideal example to prove my point. Our grandparents, in their entire life, will have witness the same amount of images that we, millenials, see when scrolling Instagram’s explore section for only 5 minutes. Our insatisfaction is the result of that stimulus growth. When has watching a youtube video stopped being enough? When have we started to increase video velocity? 1.25x, 1.5x, 1.75x … What are we looking for? Pleasure? Dopamine?

Brief disclaimer: my mind remained revisiting my grandparents. I desired to understand what was like living in their shoes. So, I wondered how was life at reality speed. Not so perfect, as you can imagine. Their choices were limited. Clothes had to be shared by several. Children received a sweet as christmas present. Not every ingredient was available to respect the recipe. Nonetheless, my grandmother still teaches me how to fix my bumpy clothes. Nonetheless, my grandfather still collects the shells from the eggs I use. The enormous amount of knowledge they have to offer us is priceless.

Therefore, I would like to induce you to re-think materials. To explore the concept of circular economy. The systemic mechanisms that our grandparents experience so closely. Yet, their reasoning was scarcity, ours, I hope, is wisdom.

“ The planet is fine, we’re in trouble” — George Carlin

In 1976, Walter Stahel introduced the term economy loop, in a research report for the European Commission: “The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy”. By untangling the impact on job creation, economic competitiveness, resource savings and waste prevention, it was possible to instigate curiosity in some government leaders. Nevertheless, more than 40 years later, we are still surrounded by linear economy.

The changes are obvious. Easy spread of information, more access to global resources, instantaneous communication, even a transformation in terminology. Yet, we are still not convinced on the benefits. Economy loop, currently known as circular economy, consists in designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. However, it is one of that rare cases when it is easier to define the concept than to visualize.

Schematic drawn on the three economy types. Source: Plan C (2017). Empowering Circular Futures.

The linear type, which still rules our system, is based on the take-make-waste principle. Therefore, not sustainable for the Earth’s finite natural resources. The growth of linear consumption is leading to high levels of waste and pollution that threaten the biosphere and human health. Through binoculars, we are observing the scarcity that most of our grandparents had to face. Slowly moving to a recycling economy, this will not be enough to grant a pleasant future for following generations. Circular economy aims to do more good and not only less bad.

The concept has frequently been described as a living system. Imagine the human body. It requires that each system — circulatory, respiratory, digestive, etc. — works effectively in conjunction with the others. By being interdependent, they need to be constantly responding and adapting to changes. A city is no different.

In a vigorous city, the systems — buildings, mobility, products, and services — also need to work effectively in conjuction with one another. Based on the most funny and enlightening story, The Power of Poop, I believe that all that is taken must be given back.

Personal vision of a healthy city. Source: Vera Voishvilo, in Dribbble

The dominant scientific mode, particularly in the northern hemisphere, has been essential to analyse individual parts in isolation. However, as we now know, reductionism is inadequate to describe Earth’s interconnections [1,2]. The system does not work eternally without balance.

Rather than mere materials’ utilization, it is their utility fluxes that allow life to flourish. After dying, nutrients must return to the system to feed new life. Lessons I have learned with my grandparents, to share and to be aware of the unicity of each element that surrounds me. The seeds must be splitted. Paciently, prepare your magnifying glass.

Every year, 80 billion pieces of clothing are purchased. After being used for a couple of years, when not less, they are sent to landfill. The mixture of stranger (and cheaper) materials has been resulting in the impossibility of reusing the initial primary materials. Sweaters are no longer made of wool. Therefore, they cannot be made fashionable again next year.
It is time to invest in (1) rent and resale business models; (2) recycle infrastructures; and (3) good quality materials.

One third of the food produced for human consumption goes to waste [3]. That amount corresponds to one billion tons of waste per year. Focused on first impressions, we are soaked in the idea that vegetables and fruits should be flawless. Meanwhile, 25 000 people die from hunger. Every day. [4] Fortunately, there are so many opportunities to do better.
Personally, I would like to invite you to learn about regenerative agriculture. The movie Kiss the ground is an excellent first step.
Nonetheless, more effective changes must be done. (1) shop locally and seasonally; (2) develop tools that enable farmers to shift to regenerative agriculture; and (3) improve the match between supply and demand by needs’ analysis and redistribution.
Plus, one trillion tons of CO2 can be captured and deforestation can be prevented! [5]

This topic was new to me. I was not aware that most construction materials contain toxic elements and therefore, cannot be reused. And not only that, 60% of European offices are not being used even in working hours. To overcome these problems it is necessary to (1) re-think the materials in use by investing in materials that can be reused and carbon suckers; (2) improve the utilization rate; and (3) make energy in buildings profitably conserved.

From building to building we pass to mobility, an elder subject. Transport represents almost a quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, being the major cause for air pollution.
Let’s stop being naive, there is no such thing as emission-free vehicles. Lithium extraction for batteries has a massive impact on the environment. We should aim to pluck pollution roots, not only to save money from future medical appoitments but also to improve life quality. Physically and mentally. Therefore, invest in (1) 15-minutes cities [6] with everything we need just a short walk or bike ride away; (2) less reliance on private car ownership [7]; and (3) automotive refurbishment, remanufacturing, and repair infrastructure.

The devil’s material. Or maybe not. Plastic was made to be used for a enormous period time. However, we have lost track of this vision and are now using it for two seconds. “By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans” [8]. Did you know?
Here are some actions to prevent that from happening: (1) eliminate unnecessary plastic (yes, I’m also talking about your shampoo bottle); (2) develop universal plastic packaging design, allowing different companies to refill the same package; (3) create a collecting system to reuse packaging instead of recycling.

The future we are working on. Source: Nádia Silva, in dribbble.

The beauty in all of these opportunity spaces is the endless possibility of a better future. We are gifted with the capacity of being creative. Shall we awake our inner child? Imagine, all it needs is the intention to design out waste and pollution.

Now you know, circular economy is much more than just waste reduction. It is an efficiency increasement of resource management. However, a thriving circular economy in cities depends on public-private and cross-sector collaboration on an unprecedented scale [9]. Luckily, we are found to be in the best time to make changes. Society’s regeneration should be the primary one.

Million-dollar question: Are you going to be reactive or proactive?

Learning has always been an enormous slice of my life. Since my most recent passion is economy, I could not rest until enrolling in a circular economy course. Ellen MacArthur Foundation, facilitated this process for me, by offering an extraordinary 7-week course with the most delightful educators. The shared insights allowed me to compose the essay above.

Just one more person who likes to write and, hopefully, touch others telepathically. Help me to grow my powers. Your opinion counts a thousand volts ❤