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How the circular economy can help fight the climate crisis

How the circular economy can help fight the climate crisis

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We’re driving the planet towards the edge, but the circular economy has the tools we need to turn this around.

We’re driving the planet towards the edge, but the circular economy has the tools we need to turn this around.

 How the circular economy can help fight the climate crisis
In a circular economy we need less resources to satisfy everyone at our current levels of consumption. That means more people would be able to lead better lives – if we can turn things around.

At the moment our economies are still based on the linear model. In other words, the way we use resources is a straight line: take-make-waste. We take resources from nature and make things out of them that are eventually thrown away. For example, we grow cotton to make garments and apparel that we throw away after a certain period of time – often into landfills.

There’s a better model than the way we’re doing things now: the circular economic model, which offers a new way of thinking about resources and waste, and is the key to getting more out of the resources we have at hand. The circular economy will allow us to benefit more from what we already have.

What does circular economy mean?

The circular economy is the opposite of the linear economy. Instead of throwing things away, we find ways to circle them back into the economy. We need to learn to see waste as a resource. You know what they say: “One man's trash is another man's treasure.” For example, when your T-shirt is worn out, the fibres could be recycled into new garments. The materials are cycled back into the economy. Perhaps you’ve heard about H&M’s Looop machine, the world’s first in-store recycling system which turns old garments into new ones, and promotes consumer awareness about the fashion industry’s massive footprint.

The aim of the circular economy is to become less dependent on extracting new resources, while at the same time reducing the amount of waste produced in the economy. The term “circular economy” refers to a broad range of ideas and practices. It could mean literally anything along the value chain of things that helps extend the life cycle of products and reduce the material throughput of the economy. It could be a circular design, which increases durability and allows you to pick the materials apart afterwards so they can be reused or recycled. It could also be repairing products that break, or maintaining them so they don’t break.

Butterfly Diagram, from Ellen McArthur Foundation.

Last year, the global economy was found to be only 8.6% circular. In other words, we are currently wasting 91.4% of all the stuff we surround ourselves with. The degree of circularity came down from 2018, when it was 9.1%. We’re using the world’s resources at a rapid pace. Did you know that the total amount of stuff produced surpassed 100 billion tonnes of material throughout last year?

We need to move from fast products to products that last. We need to create less waste and pollution, keep materials and products in use, and regenerate natural systems. This way, each piece of material can be enjoyed more. If we do it well, we will get more value from less material and everyone will benefit.

Who’s doing the circular thing well?

To get more insight into the world of practical circular economy solutions, I met up with Andrea Gamst from Oslo based startup, Mycela. The organisation is run by three women who are experimenting with an incredible type of mushroom to create organic materials that will accelerate the circular economy, and help decompose man-made materials. They started working on the project during the summer of 2020, and are just about to launch the business.

How does it work? In two ways. Firstly, the mushrooms can be used to bind low-value materials (such as sand or waste and residuals from construction) to create upcycled and useful objects. The climate benefits of using materials from construction and old buildings is huge. The international resource panel estimates that 80% of emissions from the residential buildings’ material cycle could be reduced in the G7 countries and China by 2050.

Mycela’s mushroom can be used to create anything. As long as you have a shape to work with, the mycelium mushroom will eat the biological material (or waste) and create hard mass – which also binds carbon in the process. When the material is finished growing, it’s dried to end the process and to prevent further growth.

“The mycelium can be used to make packaging, interior articles, art, isolation – anything really, except garden chairs. The material is compostable, so if you place it on the ground, microbes in the soil will start breaking it down – in a couple of months it will have returned completely back to nature”, says Andrea.

In other words, products made by Mycela will be home compostable. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But, think about it: “Why do we want things that last forever anyway?” The women at Mycela would like us to think more strategically about materials, and make things that can be given back to nature once we’re done with them.

But this is only the first part of the circular wonder. The mushroom naturally breaks down dead materials. This is part of the magic. The mushroom feeds off leftover materials from agriculture and forestry, beer brewing, shells, coffee grounds etc. Mycela takes someone’s waste, and uses it as a resource.

“We have been gifted with the genius technology of nature’s main decomposer: mycelium – which is the root system of mushrooms. It kind of eats any organic material. If we give it enough time it will even eat plastics”, says Andrea.

Renee Isabel Bakkemo, Maria Aaslund and Andrea Gamst.

Give something back

Albert Einstein once said that it is everyone’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what they take out of it.

If we want all people to live well in the 21st century, we need to create an ecologically sustainable economy that works within the boundaries of the planet. We need to work to get more out of the resources nature gifts to us, and to restore and regenerate the natural environment. The faster we accelerate this shift, in both our thinking and the way of doing business, the better off we’ll be.

It’s time to get in the loop!

In a circular economy we need less resources to satisfy everyone at our current levels of consumption. That means more people would be able to lead better lives – if we can turn things around.

At the moment our economies are still based on the linear model. In other words, the way we use resources is a straight line: take-make-waste. We take resources from nature and make things out of them that are eventually thrown away. For example, we grow cotton to make garments and apparel that we throw away after a certain period of time – often into landfills.

There’s a better model than the way we’re doing things now: the circular economic model, which offers a new way of thinking about resources and waste, and is the key to getting more out of the resources we have at hand. The circular economy will allow us to benefit more from what we already have.

What does circular economy mean?

The circular economy is the opposite of the linear economy. Instead of throwing things away, we find ways to circle them back into the economy. We need to learn to see waste as a resource. You know what they say: “One man's trash is another man's treasure.” For example, when your T-shirt is worn out, the fibres could be recycled into new garments. The materials are cycled back into the economy. Perhaps you’ve heard about H&M’s Looop machine, the world’s first in-store recycling system which turns old garments into new ones, and promotes consumer awareness about the fashion industry’s massive footprint.

The aim of the circular economy is to become less dependent on extracting new resources, while at the same time reducing the amount of waste produced in the economy. The term “circular economy” refers to a broad range of ideas and practices. It could mean literally anything along the value chain of things that helps extend the life cycle of products and reduce the material throughput of the economy. It could be a circular design, which increases durability and allows you to pick the materials apart afterwards so they can be reused or recycled. It could also be repairing products that break, or maintaining them so they don’t break.

Butterfly Diagram, from Ellen McArthur Foundation.

Last year, the global economy was found to be only 8.6% circular. In other words, we are currently wasting 91.4% of all the stuff we surround ourselves with. The degree of circularity came down from 2018, when it was 9.1%. We’re using the world’s resources at a rapid pace. Did you know that the total amount of stuff produced surpassed 100 billion tonnes of material throughout last year?

We need to move from fast products to products that last. We need to create less waste and pollution, keep materials and products in use, and regenerate natural systems. This way, each piece of material can be enjoyed more. If we do it well, we will get more value from less material and everyone will benefit.

Who’s doing the circular thing well?

To get more insight into the world of practical circular economy solutions, I met up with Andrea Gamst from Oslo based startup, Mycela. The organisation is run by three women who are experimenting with an incredible type of mushroom to create organic materials that will accelerate the circular economy, and help decompose man-made materials. They started working on the project during the summer of 2020, and are just about to launch the business.

How does it work? In two ways. Firstly, the mushrooms can be used to bind low-value materials (such as sand or waste and residuals from construction) to create upcycled and useful objects. The climate benefits of using materials from construction and old buildings is huge. The international resource panel estimates that 80% of emissions from the residential buildings’ material cycle could be reduced in the G7 countries and China by 2050.

Mycela’s mushroom can be used to create anything. As long as you have a shape to work with, the mycelium mushroom will eat the biological material (or waste) and create hard mass – which also binds carbon in the process. When the material is finished growing, it’s dried to end the process and to prevent further growth.

“The mycelium can be used to make packaging, interior articles, art, isolation – anything really, except garden chairs. The material is compostable, so if you place it on the ground, microbes in the soil will start breaking it down – in a couple of months it will have returned completely back to nature”, says Andrea.

In other words, products made by Mycela will be home compostable. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But, think about it: “Why do we want things that last forever anyway?” The women at Mycela would like us to think more strategically about materials, and make things that can be given back to nature once we’re done with them.

But this is only the first part of the circular wonder. The mushroom naturally breaks down dead materials. This is part of the magic. The mushroom feeds off leftover materials from agriculture and forestry, beer brewing, shells, coffee grounds etc. Mycela takes someone’s waste, and uses it as a resource.

“We have been gifted with the genius technology of nature’s main decomposer: mycelium – which is the root system of mushrooms. It kind of eats any organic material. If we give it enough time it will even eat plastics”, says Andrea.

Renee Isabel Bakkemo, Maria Aaslund and Andrea Gamst.

Give something back

Albert Einstein once said that it is everyone’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what they take out of it.

If we want all people to live well in the 21st century, we need to create an ecologically sustainable economy that works within the boundaries of the planet. We need to work to get more out of the resources nature gifts to us, and to restore and regenerate the natural environment. The faster we accelerate this shift, in both our thinking and the way of doing business, the better off we’ll be.

It’s time to get in the loop!

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