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VOICES: Moving back to a ‘circular economy’

We are presently living in a take, make, use and throwaway society.

It hasn’t always been this way.

Our consumer culture has expanded exponentially since the ‘50s with the advent of cheap plastics, increasingly pervasive advertising and easy access to goods of all kinds. The resources we are extracting are finite.

Manufacturing is energy-intensive and polluting: our landfills, where we dispose of what we no longer desire, are expensive, burdensome and polluting, and it is all contributing to climate change.

In the natural world there is a circular process — one species is another’s food, the sun provides energy, all that lives dies and returns to the soil, providing nutrients for further life. There is balance and no waste.

We need to rethink our current destructive economic model and imitate the circular regenerative model of the natural world, what is being referred to as the “circular economy” (CE).

Rather than subsistence, this is about regeneration and innovation. To create a human circular economy, we must rethink what we actually need or want, and how to design and build it, designing so that valuable, finite resources can be reused, repaired, remanufactured or, as a last resort, recycled; designed and manufactured so products and their components maintain their integrity and value beyond the shelf life of the original product; and how they can be disassembled and reused as new products; packaging designed so it is minimal, reusable or compostable, becoming a valuable soil amendment.

An example of a company working toward the goals of a CE is DSM-Niaga Technology. In the U.S., more than 4 billion pounds of carpet is landfilled every year, making it one of the most-common products in landfills today.

Their carpet production is based on using a simple set of clean processes, ingredients and materials that make the product 100% reusable. After the carpet is used, it is sold back to the manufacturer and turned into new carpet.

A CE challenges us to rethink ownership as well, and consider where we might lease our technology and other goods. The manufacturer is then invested in making products that last and can be recycled while taking responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the product. Premature and planned obsolesence would no longer benefit the manufacturer. An example is cell phones from Vodafone. You can rent the latest phone for a year and keep on exchanging it for a newer version.

Not all products can be reconditioned in their entirety, but most products have certain components that carry a high value. Not just products, but often materials have an embedded energy component that makes them even more valuable than their virgin source.

With the right design and remanufacturing capabilities, they can be put together to form new products.

For example, BMW’s product transformation can mean a 50% cost saving for customers buying remanufactured parts as compared to new ones. You get exactly the same quality specifications as a new BMW part subject to the same 24-month warranty.

Innovation in recycling technology is rapidly evolving and enabling the production of high-quality products. One large coffee company is turning used coffee grounds into a range of products, from detergents to bio-plastics and medicines.

Preferable to recycling is reusing, like Kaua‘i Juice is doing with their bottles. They are modeling other aspects of a CE with local sourcing, having their food scraps turned into compost and providing their employees with a livable wage and benefits.

Social-media exchange platforms are rapidly transforming industries by collaborative consumption. Craigslist, Freecycle and ThredUP are sites to find formerly owned items for free or resale.

For tools and machines we only need occasionally, many communities have traditionally practiced share programs. O‘ahu has a tool-sharing library, for example (hnltoollibrary.org).

A circular economy is based on three principles:

1. Design out waste and pollution;

2. Keep materials and products in use, durable;

3. Use renewable energy to produce products.

Before colonization, Hawai‘i was an excellent example of a working CE. A resolution advocating for a circular economy modeling traditional Hawaiian values was introduced to the state Legislature last session thanks to the dynamic work of ‘Aina Aloha Economic Futures. The following is a condensed version of Senate Resolution 38, which was killed in the House:

“Climate change is an emergency that requires changes in Hawai‘i’s energy, agriculture, mobility, water, construction, industrial sectors and development infrastructure to promote the health and well-being of the ‘aina and kanaka; a climate-ready Hawai‘i looks to Hawai‘i’s ahupua‘a concept, because of the effective management of watersheds and agricultural lands, the protection of environmental and community health, and connecting communities with kuleana or responsibility to land and ocean environments; and a circular economy models the transition of economic activities to be regenerative, equitable, resource-efficient and sustainable, yet still competitive, by closing loops within economic models; and a circular economy focuses on the sustainable management of resources, and a circular economy changes the way we produce, assemble, sell and use products and resources to minimize waste and reduce our environmental impact, and also values resource productivity, supports innovative solutions for resource efficiency, creates new job opportunities, and fosters behavior change through education and engagement; and there has been a massive growth in innovative, market-based technology solutions, and business models that can support Hawai‘i’s transition toward a circular economy; and a transition toward a circular economy will help address climate change and provide long-term economic, social and environmental benefits for Hawai‘i; and there is a resurgence in demand for Hawai‘i to reshape its economy to eliminate the over dependence on extractive industries…”

To learn more about what Kaua‘i businesses are doing to become part of a CE, tune in to the Kaua‘i Climate Action Forum series via Zoom on the second Wednesday of every month. To find the link for the Aug. 11, 6 p.m. forum, go to zerowastekauai on Facebook or Instagram.

For more information or to get involved, email kauaiclimate@gmail.com.

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Members of the Kaua‘i Climate Action Forum are responsible for the content of this piece.
Source: The Garden Island

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