The Circular Economy – Having your cake and eating it

I recently watched a TED video of [Dame] Ellen MacArthur talking about her ideas for a circular economy after Colleen posted it on her blog (link below).

While I knew about Ellen’s success of sailing round the world, I didn’t know about her ideas that came thereafter and formed into her Foundation. As she talked in her video not only did this surprise me, although it is a little to be expected since her description of her sailing challenges was somewhat like when people venture into outer space and see the Earth as a small ball in space, but when she talked about the finite resources of this planet, and just how finite they are, surprised me a lot too; I really had little idea.

The solution, as Ellen explained it, was to turn from a linear economy, as we have and which is the root of our problems, to a circular one.

By the end of the video though I wasn’t entirely convinced; I not only felt the ideas fell short, but that the solution missed some vital point or points. Mostly I think this boils down to the solution seeming to be to patch up the existing situation; to keep having our mobile phones, cars and washing machines, but changing the system that provides these things – having our cake and eating it.

I’m feeling a similar way about a book I just finished reading about how a wife and mother of young daughter decides with her partner to travel off round the world in search of paradise and the perfect life (I’ve read such books before), with it being obvious to me that her mindset and attitude were all wrong. Having skipped to the pictures in the centre of the book and glimpsed at the list of Contents, I can see, even though I was barely 20 pages in at the time and she’d not even left her home turf, that she’d be back home at some point.

I can commend everyone’s efforts to find a better life, or to make one, either for themselves (as long as it’s not at the detriment of others) or for the world at large in the case of Ellen MacArthur. I follow bloggers who write about their recycling efforts and how they’re dehoarding, how they live with less or buy food that isn’t packaged in plastic; all these people inspire me in their own way.

I see where I have my own improvements to make and I try to inspire and encourage others too, but this isn’t always so easy; making suggestions to people can be received with offence or without affecting change; neither of which is a good end result.

When it comes to “big names” though, I find it all too easy to be sceptical; their intentions may be well-founded but who are the big backers? I found it strange that the Wikipedia page for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation doesn’t have a “Criticisms” section, and the Talk page is blank, but then who could criticise Ellen?

A further video I found explaining the Circular Economy model had cartoony graphics (although people complimented this) and again explained the idea of leasing out cars, appliances, and gadgets instead of selling them so the responsibility would fall on the manufacturers to ensure their longevity and repairableness, rather than the consumer, seemed also naive and fell short. The whole reason things fail, become outdated or are not easily repairable, or are hard to recycle, is because the system has followed a path that maximises monetary profits; this may be short-sighted beyond our own life-time, but that’s how it is – each generation is now being passed the buck regarding where the problems are concerned.

Things are being recycled more and more and things are broken back down into their raw materials; cars and washing machines can be separated into metals and plastics. To say that changing the business model that supplies them will provide a solution is, I believe, futile. We have to look back to why we want cars and washing machines in the first places… (two things which I am living without) because we are sold on the idea that they make our life better, we’re not sold on how all this nonsense destroys the world. The video begins with an illustration of how the natural world operates and then how we operate in contrast, us with mobile phones, washing machines and cars.

Yes, I’m saying having a washing machine will destroy the world; a case in point is how, when it breaks it is thrown out and replaced with a new one, when all that perhaps needed replacing was a hand-full of ball bearings, because no company (government, accountant, economist, or lawyer…) wants you to just buy a few ball-bearings, because there’s no money in it.


The TED talk:

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