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The Circular Economy

In Article, Sustainability, Tech4Good by ScottLeave a Comment

It’s more than Carbon Dioxide

How often do you take a moment to really think about your impact on the planet? For example, did you ever consider that each email you send has a carbon footprint, and communicating by text message generates less carbon dioxide equivalent than making a phone call.

What about your clothes? I guess many of us hand-down, donate our unwanted clothes to charity or put them on the kerb in the plastic collection bags we find posted through our doors, but have you thought about what happens to your clothes after that? Did you stop to think about the different environmental impact of polyester clothes, vs natural fibres?

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My guess is most of us see the use of products and goods as a one-direction process of consumption. Even if we actively recycle or compost our food waste, our initial thinking is primarily one directional. Food is grown, food is distributed to shops, food is purchased, consumed and the waste composted to help feed our Rhododendrons. Few of us would instinctively think about a circular process of how our waste products make them back into our lives time and time again.

The concept of the Circular Economy aims to shift our thinking from this linear, one-directional process to one where we build biological and technical processes and systems that builds “long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits” – essentially a better world for all of us.

Does it rot or not?

Carbon Dioxide Equivalent is a simple way to measure how much impact something has on the environment. It’s a simplification based on the fact that different gases have different impacts on the atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide is the one we all instinctively think about, and in the UK contributes the lion’s share of our contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s not the most harmful.

That stinky methane gas that comes from decomposing, rotting or digested matter is hundreds of times more potent than carbon dioxide, albeit with a shorter impact as it lasts in our atmosphere only a few decades, compared to carbon dioxide which lasts centuries before being recaptured out of the atmosphere into other matter.

Because of the short term, high power impact of methane and the short time window we have to address climate change, methane emissions should be a considerable concern for us. So it’s worth taking a moment to think “does it rot or not?”. If it rots (like paper, food, natural fabrics etc) then make sure it is properly recycled at the end of its use. If you were to only use paper shopping bags instead of plastic, but not properly recycle them, you could be causing more harm in terms of global warming than you imagine.

Phones, TVs, Laptops

Have you thought about what happens when your children are bored of your hand-me-down phone? Or when the PC you donated to the local school are obsolete? That old TV you dropped off at the local tip or recycling centre, what happens to that?

Well that’s a 50,000,000,000 tonne a year problem that the company below is trying to solve. The video below makes for a compelling and important watch. Please watch it.

When I spoke with WiseTek, they had managed to divert more than 6 million tones of toxic metals from being irresponsibly disposed into the environment, from processing more than 100 thousand tonnes of used IT equipment.

Moving beyond a cost

The responsible disposal of IT waste has traditionally been an additional cost for organisations that has to be borne at the end of the usable life of an asset. That idea is never easy to swallow. Imagine buying a fancy new car, using it until it’s depreciated to virtually nothing, and then having to pay a whopping rent fee to get rid of it.

WiseTek‘s approach, interestingly, turns this on its head, allowing corporations to actually make a little money from disposing of their waste IT equipment responsibly.

how-bad-are-bananas-mike-berners-lee-9781846688911The Circular Economy – This is down to all of us.

We all need to think a bit harder about the products we buy and the services we use. We need to think about how to repair things and the total cost of the product to us, and the planet. A book I read recently puts this into context quite well, so if you’re interested, check out How Bad Are Bananas.


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