What has 23 screws, 15 separate rubber parts, 13 wires, 4 plastic boards, 3 metal plates, 3 unidentifiable objects, 2 microphones and 1 circuit board?
These are the ingredients of an old landline phone, obviously!
In a Green Alliance conference last week, I took part in a tear down session run by the RSA as part of their Great Recovery initiative which meant that we physically got to dismantle a small household electrical appliance that had been discarded. The physical labour enabled me to appreciate how intricate the design of objects is and how, quite often, products are simply not meant to be taken apart (see proof of labour in photo!). Though we were not able to identify each individual chemical element from the periodic table present in the landline phone, we did understand that there were countless elements which had been glued, welded, screwed and fused together. Recouping the individual raw materials is no easy feat.
The Green Alliance conference was, in fact, a practitioners’ seminar on building a business plan for a circular economy.
At its simplest definition and from a supply side, the circular economy is one which looks at raw materials in a less linear way. So an economy which moves away from taking, making, using and discarding; and moves towards a more holistic approach to living systems and replenishing natural capital. The circular economy seems to draw from and build on previous models like: green economy, sustainable economy, future economy, closed loop economy and cradle-to-cradle economy. Brook Lyndhurst has explored some of the practical implications for consumers of such an economy via our research, for example, on longer product lifetimes.
There was an impressive line up of speakers at the seminar from local authorities to investors to designers to Government officials. A heterogeneous bunch of people with a similar goal: sketching out how we could pave the way to a more circular economy. The intellectual stimulus and hands-on demonstration left me thinking that the path to the circular economy has to be a collective effort. Each and every one of us needs to change our mindset so that we are making, using and giving a new life to products (via re-use, remanufacturing and recycling) and considering product durability, service and intrinsic value throughout this cyclical process.