Let’s say you want to make a chair. First, you think about what kind of chair you want to make, maybe you’ll make a rough sketch or a more detailed drawing. Then you’ll source the materials, perhaps it’s wood, metal, or something else entirely. Then you need to figure out a way to manipulate the materials into the shapes you dreamed up, assemble them, and voila!, there you go. A chair! It came out great.
You wanted a chair and a chair you got. It takes pride in your living room, you like to sit on it. When you plan your next move it ends up curb side. It was your chair for a while, but it’s trash now.
That products stop being what they were and become trash is as much part of the production process as the resource extraction that marks the beginning. The linear economy first transforms resources into products and then transforms these products into trash. Turning wine back into water. Trash is where the line ends.
The manufacturer gives up custody and abandons responsibility for the product when the sale is made and the product changes hands (minus some warranty obligations). The owner gives up custody and abandons responsibility when they toss the trash (formerly known as the product) in the garbage or into the recycling or donation bin. It happens at an ever faster clip too. 98% of resources end up as trash within half a year of their use in production.
Everyone feels that they did what they signed up to do. Did what they could. Did what could reasonably be expected of them. One party wanted to make a sale, the other wanted to make a purchase. Easy as that. No harm, no foul. It’s always been like that.
But why should we feel beholden to “it’s always been like that”? To the old way of doing things? Especially in a time when everything else gets disrupted.
Let’s disrupt trash!
The circular economy tells us that we can indeed disrupt trash. In circular economies, the tail of the production (what the linear economy discards as “trash”) is attached back to its head. The wine stays wine, as long as it can be.
If we go back to the chair example, the disruption happens right at the beginning: Instead of just thinking about what kind of chair you want to make and then sourcing the materials that suit your product vision, you will broaden the horizon to also consider how the chair and its parts could be incorporated in a new product.
The end game of a sophisticated circular economy is to keep all the material resources that are used in production in play for as long as possible. Give the materials of a products a second and third life. Squeeze out every ounce of use.
In short: A phenomenal challenge fit for today’s innovative minds in technology, engineering, design, and business.