Circular Economy, Recycling Economy or Material Economy.
Updated: Sep 25, 2022
Unlike the usual opening, today, I want to start my article by a thesis statement.
Our current way to operate the economy, which is called material economy, threatens our environment and humanity survival because of its linear "take – make – dispose" model, but we can fix it by moving forward to a circular economy.
So one might wonder What is material economy?
The Materials Economy is a production system that dominates our manufacturing world nowadays. It is a system that starts with the extraction of raw materials by digging into the ground and their processing into usable materials. This is followed by the refined materials being used to manufacture products in factories. The next two stages are the distribution of products to retail outlets or directly to consumers for consume. The last stage, at the end of the product's useful life, is its disposal.
The material economy has been around for over a century, started it journey in early 20th century in some industrialized countries like United Kingdom or United States before a short end of the 1st wave due to the Great Depression in 1929. However, the strong ritual of material economy and consumerism have never been disappeared, it came back and rose stronger right after the World War II and continued until this day.
As the American famous economist Victor Lebow (1902-1980) stated "Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption.… We need things consumed, burned up, replaced, and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate". This is how we, human beings build our consumerism society.
As mentioned above, the driven force of material economy is corporation try to maximum profit accelerated by planned obsolescence, under no (or minimum) legal constrains and fueled in a consumerism society. Material economy heighten the scarcity crisis and the environmental problems, which in the end threat humanity's survival.
"Anyone who thinks you can have infinite growth on a finite planet is either a madman or an economist" - Kenneth Boulding.
Is the recycling economy a solution?
Simple answer. No. Recycling is not the solution!
Recycling only validates waste. Recycling makes waste become socially normalized, become the trend of disposability production and consumption since we believe that recycling will save us in the end. But the truth is most of the disposables waste are not captured or recycled but rather end of on the wild. Even the ones that are lucky enough to be recycled, it means more energy, more green house gas emission.
The more we use
The more we produce
The more we extract
The more we waste
We should move toward a circular economy
"The circular economy is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible".
(European Parliament, 2009)
The basic idea of circular economy lie at the aim of achieve more by using less which refer to the way of keeping resources and products at as high value and long as possible by extending their lifetime for function longer. Instead of troubling at the last stage - disposal, Circular economy emphasizes on the Design phase - the very first stage of products.
The principles of circular economy are (1) Slow the material loop; (2) Narrow the material loop; (3) Close the material loop.
Now, Let's take a look at our current practice and the one that we must aim to!
The story of stuff, https://www.storyofstuff.org
Stockholm resilience center, https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries/the-nine-planetary-boundaries.
Disrupt Design, Dr.Leyla Acaroglu, https://www.disruptdesign.co
Circular Economy - Sustainable material management, Coursera.