Thinking in Circles This Earth Day, 22 April

It is early morning and you need your coffee fuel on the go. You buy your favourite brew and toss the empty cup in the recycling bin. Over the weekend you order takeout from your favourite restaurant and it comes with plastic utensils and straws. You think to yourself: “It is just a couple of straws, one plastic bag and we will re-use the plastic utensils”. It goes unused into that special take-out drawer, until one day when it gets thrown away.

Dr Lize Barclay, senior lecturer in systems thinking and future studies at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) says that the problem is that there is no away.

“The coffee grounds from your coffee went to the landfill where it emits methane, which is a greenhouse gas with 25 times more potency than carbon dioxide. Of the 5800 million tons of primary plastic that is no longer in use, only 9% has been recycled since 1950.”

“Our clothes, stationery, cars, household products, houses and offices are filled with plastic and other products that we will either attempt to recycle or eventually discard. The pollution caused in the air, water and on land by that which we through away, as well as the manufacturing processes of these products, are moving us closer and closer to the crossing of all the nine planetary boundaries. After the full breach, the earth systems will no longer be able to thrive, also threatening humanity in the process.”

Dr Barclay says that people are embracing a zero-waste lifestyle, where they consciously consider where all products come from and go after they have used them.

“They intentionally avoid discarding things and carefully consider each product they buy and where it ends up.”

Bea Johnson in her book Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste identified 5Rs every household should aim for:

  • Refuse what you do not need
  • Reduce what you do need
  • Reuse what you consume
  • Recycle only what you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse
  • Rot (compost) the rest of your waste

She says businesses are also becoming more environmentally conscious as they consider alternatives to their processes and are subsequently embracing circular design.

“In circular design products and services are created that does not have a linear lifecycle with a clear beginning, middle and end. The target is a closed-loop system that aims to minimize the use of resources and subsequently the creation of waste. It enables a system where they reuse, share, repair, refurbish, remanufacture and recycle within that circularity.”

“Vintage is sexy and indigenous knowledge products are leaders in this new way of making, using and not discarding. There are shampoo bars and bamboo toothbrushes, copper straws and re-growing food waste in windowsills. The emergence of the zero waste movement and circular design are moving the world slowly and surely towards the circular economy.”

Dr Barclay encourages all to think and live circular on Earth Day, and every day after that.

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