We all love a new buzzword, particularly when it represents a hopeful solution to our most protracted ecological and social problems, so one that definitely fits the bill is #thecirculareconomy. Now, before you swipe away because of the word economy (high school memories can do that!) I want to remind you that economy is derived from the Greek word ‘oikonomia’ meaning the business of ‘household management’, ancients knew the most valuable players in markets were you and I and other individuals going about our daily choices. Part of the challenge of getting people engaged in circular economy thinking is not their lack of importance in economics, but in convincing them they have the power to change markets with what they already have.
‘If we can imagine it, we can create it’ Ellen MacArthur
The circular economy represents a highly natural (note, not new) way to organise the way we live, work and play so that our choices are restorative and regenerative for people and planet. The simplest way to comprehend its value is to observe how nature structures its ‘household’ interactions, resources are never wasted, everything in the supply chain is considered valuable. Natural intelligence particularly recognises the need not to waste the end-game, think of salmon swimming upstream to die for the future benefit of the entire eco-system.
This is in stark contrast to the human-made linear economy, which, since the industrial revolution, most of us have unquestionably accepted as the way to make things happen. Ideally we should be embracing the circular economy because we want to, not because we have to, as Ellen MacArthur eloquently explains “The linear take-make-dispose system, which depletes natural resources and generates waste, is deeply flawed and can be productively replaced by a restorative model in which waste does not exist as such but is only food for the next cycle”. It’s time for circularity whether we think it or not.
One industry that is perfectly placed for a restoration in circularity is the fashion industry. As readers of this blog you probably won’t need reminding of just how wasteful and toxic our fashion choices have become, the insightful ABC series #waronwaste reminded us that Australians throw away 6000kg of clothing every 10 minutes, circular thinking prompts us to ask ‘what is this away place’? In linear economies where waste is not at all valued or adequately priced, away represents clothing being dumped in landfills, incinerators or being offered to poorer nations as a solution to their problems (it is NOT), in contrast, circular systems attempt to close the loop by re-purposing waste, not by disposing it.
Re-imagining possibility with upcycled silk saris.
Circular economy thinking is an opportunity for us to reimagine what is valuable in our world. Breaking away from the past will of course be difficult but not impossible. I taught linear economic models for 20 years only to realise its fundamental accounting system is so wrong. The central tenet is that all resources are limited, but in front of me were twenty young people all endowed with the capacity for infinitely creative thinking, it occurred to me the real energy crisis was not to do with fossil fuels but with how much potential we waste by undervaluing the most renewable resource on our planet - the imaginative capacity of each other. I realised we don’t need more resources to solve our problems, we simply need to use what we have more imaginatively, and its this kind of thinking that needs to come into fashion (just as the Greeks knew) by you and me.
We are thrilled to be staging an event for #VAMFF on The Circular Economy, March 15th. We look forward to catching up with our Melbourne supporters. Tickets available through Humanitix.