A few decades ago there was a Spanish television advertisement of a popular brand of insecticides, which tried to show how it ended with cockroaches. The announcement became so popular that most Spaniards quickly remember the slogan: "They are born and then, grow, reproduce, die and disappear." And, curiously, its life cycle can help us understand how consumption has been so far. The products were created, used until we got tired of them or until they stopped working (something that thanks to programmed obsolescence occurs faster and faster) and then they died directly. When the products died, they disappeared from our lives and we forgot about them.
But that the products stopped being useful and being part of our daily life, did not mean that they disappeared. In fact, they simply stopped being in our eyes and went to take up more space in the vast mountains of waste that were created (and are still being created) year after year. Our consumption habits left and are leaving a trace, that gets bigger and bigger as the years pass by and the consumer society settles and reaches more and more layers of the population.
This consumption format and the high load it entails for the environment is not unquestionable and can be changed for something better. In fact, it can be substituted by much more efficient models of consumption and product life cycles that are more sustainable and respectful with the environment. This is where the circular economy emerges, an economy in which the product life cycle is not a line finishing in any garbage plant, but rather becomes a circle where products always find a new existence.
The circular economy is waking up the interest of consumers, companies and public authorities. In fact, and for a more detailed example, the European Commission has a package of specific measures aimed at companies and consumers to promote this type of actions and activities. The measures, with economic aids worth billions of euros, try to promote this type of behavior in all life cycles of the potential products. Among the European objectives are to recycle 65% of all garbage from European municipalities and 75% of packaging in 2030, or to launch economic incentives for manufacturers to fill the market with much greener products.
The circular economy does not only involve the recycling of our waste and the launch of greener products, but also a change of philosophy in what it means to access things and services. The idea is not for everyone to own all products, but rather that everyone uses what they need when the time comes and therefore, products are much more "amortized." The new car-sharing services, which are emerging in big cities and that allow renting and sharing cars, go in that line. Things are used consistently and there is not a park of products waiting to be used while we continue to buy.
How to give a new life to products
In the end, one could say that circular economy is structured around a philosophy based on "7Rs," to redesign, reduce, reuse, renew, repair, recycle and retrieve products to give them new uses or all their possible uses. It is, in a way, what for decades our grandparents did, when they always used the same bottles to go to the store for certain drinks or when they converted things that they no longer used in others, as now do hipster bars when they turn boots of marmalade in glasses.
Applying the larger-scale model, as some pioneering cities make, implies having all the actors in society implied and being able to go beyond the most obvious solutions. In Peterborough, a British city that already functions as an authentic circular city, they use the bags in which cafes take coffee to convert them into bags and handbags. Everything that cannot be used for new uses is used to generate electricity in an energy plant.
The big multinational companies that try to become also circular companies, such as H&M, have begun with processes of exploitation. In the case of the companies of the fashion world, they focus on the collection of clothes in their establishments. Their consumers can leave clothes that they no longer use in their stores and this will be converted again into raw materials to make new clothes.
All of these measures, such as repairing before throwing appliances, are supposed to be a saving, which implies an improvement in the finances of those who are benefiting from the structures of the circular economy, but, above all, it has a direct impact on your footprint in the environment. The circular economy helps to solve the high load that our modes of consumption impose on the environment.