What is a circular economy and how can we work towards it?
A circular economy is where there is no waste. Sounds like a tall order doesn’t it? It is for us humans because we have built a life where we don’t think about the materials we use. We use a product and when we are done we discard it.
But where does it really go? There is a place called ‘away’ . The problem is that people believe that sending their things to ‘away’ solves the problem. Out of sight out of mind but most of the time these things are just buried, literally buried in the earth. Huge pits are created and our stuff we throw away is buried in them. This is not ideal for the planet or for us. Not only are all the chemicals from these products leaching out into the earth, we are running out of space. There are four options with stuff we get rid of.
LANDFILL / RECYCLE / REUSE / COMPOST
Most items will fit into one of these categories. You could burn some paper based items or some may even dissolve but ultimately the above is the destiny of ALL of your purchases. Let’s go through them in more detail so you can make more informed choices. (This is based on our views and our own research please do your own research to form your own views as well)
Landfill is the least desirable. Even if you could not give a monkeys about the future of our planet and the health of the next generation this is still a a move in the wrong direction. Because while you are still here you are breathing in, absorbing, and consuming chemicals from the after math of landfill. So sod everyone else for a second, if you care about your own health and how long you will live and be healthy then time for a change. Start weekly by challenging yourself to buy less items that will end up in landfill.
Another reason to avoid products that go straight to landfill is to free up time and money from councils for other things – like improved recycling resources. If black bag waste (this our landfill rubbish in the UK) was collected less frequently and there was less rubbish to process and sort and bury in the ground, then think of all the time and money that could be reallocated other places.
Are you one of those people that complains about the pots holes, the broken lamp post, the parking fees, the no where to park? Less landfill = more resources for other things.
What is Landfill?
Landfill is anything that can not be recycled or something that has been recycled that can not be recycled again.
Anything you put in your black bag rubbish is likely going to landfill. Even if it could be recycled if put in the correct bags in the first place. Rubbish does get sorted in some areas. But most of the time it get taken to landfill straight away. Depending on the resources at the landfill site some of this rubbish may get sorted but it’s a bit of a risk to assume unless you know the entire process of your local landfill site.
The first step to reduce your landfill is to consider whether it fits any of the other categories before you bin it. These are RECYCLE / REUSE / COMPOST. Check your recycling bag, different councils are different. Putting something non recyclable into a recycling bag does not mean it will be recycled. It’s more likely to end up with you being fined and the entire bag of stuff that could be recycled being contaminated. For example putting tin foil that has been used for cooking in with the paper recycling. Nope – it’s got food on it. If you are prepared to wash the food off, then you can scrunch it up into a ball and put into the recycling.
The biggest myth of this century. Yes, it does exist. I don’t mean it’s mythical as such. We’ve been mislead. Whilst recycling is a wonder and the equipment and processes are advancing all of the time a very small percentage of plastic gets recycled. They are just not the right type of plastic. To explain this I’ve added some info about this from a book I own on the resource page.
The plastic that does get recycled can only be a handful of times. The compounds change and the material can not be as robust a few recycles in. You can tell plastic that has been recycled it has a different look to it and becomes more opaque. Many plastics are recycled into other products, like fleece, carpet, maybe a park bench. Whilst using up plastic that already exists as a material is a good thing once it is made into those items it will unlikely be made into anything else and will head to landfill once no longer needed.
It is better to buy items made from recycled plastic that virgin plastic but just be aware that it is a delay to landfill not an avoidance. If we can eliminate using new plastic altogether that would be a great leap.
The best things to recycle are glass, aluminum and tin. These items can be forever recycled; they do not loose quality when they get recycled. They are the perfect example of a circular economy. The material get used, repurposed and used again and again and again. The same with aluminium.
We are not recycling experts so we’ve included some links for you to read over.
Aiming to purchase items in glass or aluminium will lower your carbon footprint because these items can be completely recycled and/or reused. Glass and aluminium can be melted down and made again into anything.
Instead of sending something to landfill or adding it to the recycling bag you could simply reuse it. Although in most cases this doesn’t create a circular economy as things do not last. For example we reuse containers for our refil customers. At the moment they are going strong, I think we will maybe get 8-12 uses of of each bottle. Maybe more. But once they start to buckle or look a bit worse for wear they themselves will be hitting the recycling. Which may or may not getting made into something else. This is part of working towards a circular economy but is more what we would call a delayed economy. If it can be reused indefinitely that is your circular economy sweet spot. Everything else is just a delay.
To work towards delaying as step one towards circular here is a list of items we commonly reuse to give you some ideas.
If your takeaway doesn’t allow you to take your own containers you can reuse for freezer storage, storage in general like the kitchen draw of doom for elastic bands, batteries etc. Most of ours get used for dispensing our dishwasher powder into for our customers. They last a similar amount of time to the bottles but crack easily, especially if being used in the freezer.
This has been more of a challenge than the plastic. We have much more control over what plastic waste comes into our home. Paper is another ball game, we get so much of it. Even though I signed up for the ‘no junk mail’ scheme with Royal mail. I think it may have worn off.
Sometimes paper can not be reused, thin stock is hard to write on and some stock is coated and no good for the fire. For uncoated paper that is printed on we twizzle up and use for the fire. During the warmer months we add small amounts to the compost and put the rest of for recycling.
For documents or marketing that is plain on at least one size we use for scrap paper. Once used we use for the fire as above.
This comes some way to reducing our paper waste but we have a way to go. I might ring royal mail again. I could also stick out my no junk mail label on the post box. It worked for a while but generally it was ignored.
Although fit for the recycling, the compost and the fire- if you are a keen gardener these can be used for planting your seeds. We cut the bottom half and make a bottom, so it ends up like a little pot. You can then use these to plant your seeds in.
I know many gardeners that use up yoghurt pots this way – which is not a bad idea. But once your seeds have started to grow the pot will need to be discarded. The bonus with the loo roll is that it can go straight in the ground.
Ziplock Cheese Bags
Not sure if they are actually zip lock bags but you know the ones that seal again, those. We don’t buy blocks cheese in plastic as often as we used to but, now and again we do still buy them. The re-sealable bags can be useful and we use them to store food in the freezer. They last quite a long time. Good delay tactic and no need to buy new freezer bags.
If something can be composted this is as good as it being recycled indefinitely. The magic of something breaking down into soil to be used for plants or growing food blows my tiny little eco mind.
We put mainly food scraps into our compost and despite our efforts to cut down on foodwaste and use up everything we have we still manage to fill the compost pretty quickly. This time of year it starts to go down as we plant out food and new plants. It’s amazing to think that food that could not be consumed is now being used to help grow food that can.
There are many different types of composts – we basically just have a wooden container with a lid. We don’t put meat based food waste in it just plant based scraps.
We also add paper, some cotton if ripped up into small pieces. Hair from my hair brush. Anything organic can go in.
In a nutshell, working towards a circular economy is better than not, it doens’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be. Creating posts like this to raise awareness of how we can help protect our health and environment is good starting point for us.
You only have to look at how much the natural planet has thrived since we’ve all been in lockdown. The skies cleared of smog, our gardens have thrived. The planet started to make a come back. The planet will survive just fine without us. It is us that needs the planet, not the other way around. So lets make small steps to take care of it, so it will take care of us.
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