In this society of consumerism and collecting so much stuff, to ensure sustainability we have to look to how we dispose of it when we no longer have a use for it. Innovators are looking at the Circular Economy – good bye simple recycling! – and the need to upcycle!
As a business committed to sustainable and holistic practices in how we create modern living spaces, we are always looking at ways that help us grow and innovate our own building techniques.
We love incorporating concepts of regeneration and designs of a biophilic nature; emulating natural cycles, bringing elements of nature into our buildings, and increasing opportunities to interact with the outdoors. Even better, people are jumping on board!
But, despite the regenerative and minimalist trends, people still love their stuff. And we don’t show signs of giving up our stuff. Consequently, in only a few decades – when the world’s population is expected to hit 10 billion – there will be a lot more people with a lot more stuff on Earth.
So, what to do with it all? What can we do to help prepare the planet for a more sustainable future?
In the past several decades, we’ve approached our stuff, and the disposal of it, through the repurpose, reuse, recycle model. And it’s been an effective step forward. However, with plastics overrunning the planet, it’s become apparent that the recycling end of things has become inadequate.
One solution that’s coming to the fore is the possibility of leaving the linear economy — in which products are made, used, and then rapidly disposed of – in favour of a circular economy, in which products are made, used, and then remade and reused. Effectively, closing the wasteful loop, encouraging upcycling rather than just recycling to help minimize waste and make the most of resources.
The concept of circularity is the idea of keeping everything in a closed-loop cycle. We have become aware of recycling our plastic water bottles, if we use them, so that bottle has a new life. In a circular system, the step of recycling becomes the entry point for circularity.
Take a printer, for example. Currently, in the design of a consumer-grade printer, many different plastics are used and glued together – difficult to disassemble at the end of its life – and, consequently, the waste stream – or the recycled material – is a lower grade.
If, however, in the design of the printer, the manufactures utilize a single source of plastic and allow the user to snap the parts together; at the end of the life of the printer, there is an entire set of materials that can be made into new products.
A business we’re all familiar with, clothing company, Patagonia is already incorporating circularity into their design process. They will take back your gear at the end of its life, and because they’ve designed it to be upcycled, they can readily turn an old T-shirt into a new one.
They’re considering how they can avoid using virgin materials in the first place – how to take trash from oceans, for example, and turn that into surf gear. Patagonia is a company that is truly embracing circularity and see the potential for their business – and bottom line – being at the forefront.
For a circular economy to take hold, it’ll be critical to look at how we lower the cost of producing things, of manufacturing facilities, of designing homes, communities, and whole cities. But, when we think differently about materials, and using them repeatedly rather than just once, there is inevitably an economic benefit.
If things can be manufactured from the waste stream, that results in huge economic gain.
Currently, there are a number of challenges to transitioning to a circular economic model, primarily, cost. There are many complexities for any business to change how it has been doing things. How to make the decision between material A versus material B, for instance. A new understanding of the entire supply chain of materials will be critical. A company would also have to develop a comprehensive understanding of their regional waste stream and recycling.
Change is always hard, and resistance is inevitable. But, with the advancements in technology – AI and machine learning – we are beginning to expand the intelligence to help we humans make sense of what has previously been prohibitively complex.
In this Information Age, software enables circularity. We have partners in our design tools to help us make better, more sustainable decisions.
As we see in the building sector, advanced building science and technologies help us create innovative new spaces, utilizing a smaller ecological footprint than ever before.
We know there’s a bright future that incorporates human ingenuity, innovative design, and our uniquely human ability to adapt to make the world better for generations to come.
Circular economy? Bring it on!