I have heard a lot of nicknames for the United States when it comes to our waste generation. Everything from the throw-away society to the trash dump skiers. These nicknames seem to encompass the issues at hand with not only our overconsumption, but our under management of post consumption. This process is often referred to as Cradle-to-Grave, meaning we make something from natural resources, then put it in the ground. An alternative approach (the one Waste Equals promotes) is a Cradle-to-Cradle society, meaning we build and use products in a way that they can then be used again in a second life. An easy example is using your old t-shirt for a rag when working on your car or bike.
This idea of Cradle-to-Cradle is a critical part of the circular economy concept. A circular economy is defined as decoupling economic growth from the extraction and consumption of scarce resources with negative footprints and making existing resources productive for as long as possible (according to Terence Tse, Mark Esposito and Khaled Soufani). In layman’s terms this is saying: reuse and repurpose everything we can for as long as we can to retain the most value. Another definition could be, use what we have, before buying more.
It’s easy for me to sit here and explain the process and point out flaws in our society, but actually taking action is much more difficult. Even when action is taken it needs to be mutually appealing or it won’t last. There are so many stakeholders it can be incredibly difficult to take the first step towards real progress. Between individuals, businesses, governments, legislation, and special interest groups there can be a lot of hands to shake. Not only can their be stakeholder conflict, but competing with the convenience, scale, and culture of trash collection is a beast of its own.
Finding solutions for everyone will be hard, but at Waste Equals we believe we can continue to find small wins that become much bigger over time. Through this we can eventually make our society circular.