Be For Change

Putting words into action: Let's get the Circular Economy off the ground!

Sustainable Future, War on Wastelidia callejoComment

Hi again! It's Lidia here, writing from Spain

Last week, I attended a course in Madrid on the circular economy, from which I walked away with mixed feelings. In this week's post, I wanted to talk a bit about what I took away from the course and what I learnt. 

What is the circular economy?

Before going into more detail, I think it is worth it to explain what the circular economy is. This economic model opposes our current mainstream linear economy, based on the extraction of resources to produce goods, followed by the consumption of those goods and then their mindless disposal. The circular economy proposes an alternative that seeks to rethink value, it considers the impact our practices have on the planet and seeks to minimize it. The model I found to be most useful and complete was one that was based on the 7 R’s (see image below). During this course a series of speakers, among them members of a few political parties, presented their views and their plans of action.  

 Linkedln

Linkedln

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are we ready to adopt a more circular economy?

The fact that a course was being held by one of Spain’s main universities with political parties' representatives in attendance and presenting their agenda for a circular economy is a positive point. It definitively shows that people are aware of current problems and prepared to change their ways at a national scale. During this course, a summit on the circular economy took place which Obama and 300 other leaders attended, and for the most part received training on the subject. These are all encouraging prospects. 

However, towards the end of the course I realized something that made me rethink or question what we had been delivered over the past 3 days.

I realized that despite the speakers issuing warnings of the urgency of the situation, telling us that we had to change our ways, letting politicians know where to start implementing measures (and whom we should vote for in good measure); there was no visible action taking place in that room.

This was evident in many ways.

First of all, despite it being daylight and 30ºC outside, the lights were left on for most of the course. Everyone in the room had a disposable water bottle and every speaker was given one before each talk. Lastly, each day brochures with the same schedule were distributed (and even I distractedly ended up with a few). It was quite ironic to see our current economic model based on excessiveness and a lack of concern for the disposal of goods being criticized and being told that we had to change our ways when those ways weren’t being acted on. 

It became clear to me that awareness is no longer the only tool and it is used by some to tick the box of ‘concern’ but actions need to be seen and existing politics remain a major obstacle. People are waiting for politicians to take actions, politicians critique each other and those that are in power appeared to ignore the problem due to stronger incentives such as taxes, revenue etc. One speakers thoughtfully said that we need to stop this mentality of thinking from (political) term to term, and think of the future - because that is what’s at stake.

 Total SA

Total SA

Individual action is incredibly important

While political and economic measures need to be put in place to facilitate the large scale function of this circular economy, if we don’t change our own ways then we won’t move past the problem. If instead of each speaker having a disposable water bottle (as well as every attendee), they were to be encouraged to bring their own bottles and otherwise supplied with tap water, that would have already fostered a behavioural change. Also, there was genuinely no need for the 4 schedule brochures I was given along the course (especially when one considers that the schedule was in an online pdf too). 

While it was inspiring and motivating to listen to politicians and other speakers, it was concerning to see how the solution was to some extent in front of their eyes, yet they seemed blind to it. I’m  not trying to say that politics doesn’t have its role to play, it definitely does when it comes to waste management, corporations, large schemes etc... But I didn’t bring my own reusable water bottle because X or Y party was in power - and I doubt that whoever is in power will influence the fact that we were given an excessive amount of brochures. There are some changes that we have to make ourselves, and not wait for someone to either force us to or tell us to. 

What I learnt from this course is that we need to put words into action and not wait around for it to be done by someone else, especially since time is not on our side. It is opportunities like Plastic free July that we need to take on and be part off (read our post here: Living in a Plastic Planet and the potential of Plastic free July). As an article in 'The Economist' states: 'it is time to turn the circular economy into practice.'

 

How do you choose to engage in the circular economy? Are there related subjects that you would like me to further explore?

Let me know in the comments, speak up on our social media or email us with your suggestions hello@be-for-change.com

xx

New bags bringing the perfect Beach vibes

Bag For ChangeAna CarneiroComment
 Flo Martin with the  Red Beach Bag , photographed by Pamela Aminou

Flo Martin with the Red Beach Bag, photographed by Pamela Aminou

Even though I haven't quite made it to the beach just yet this year, our new trio of bags with beautiful stripes have me craving all things seaside :)

I'm blaming the colours and textures, for I can't stop day-dreaming about packing them with beach towels, fresh fruits to keep me going during the day and snacks to enjoy as the sun goes down... *rummages the closet looking for espadrilles*

In grey, red and a beautiful sandy beige, these bags are made from cotton fabrics that would have been thrown away. As with all of our bags, they have the same handy pocket on the inside and have been finished with cotton seam tape, but we skipped on our iconic Bag For Change print to keep these models as simple and elegant as possible. We took these photos in London, but can't wait to see where you guys and girls taken them to!

Which one is your favourite?

red stripes sustainable beach bag
 Bruna Costa models the  Beach Bag in Grey Stripes , photographed by Ana Carneiro

Bruna Costa models the Beach Bag in Grey Stripes, photographed by Ana Carneiro

beach bag grey stripes 2
 Lara Costa with the  Sandy Beach Bag , photographed by Pamela Aminou

Lara Costa with the Sandy Beach Bag, photographed by Pamela Aminou

sandy beige beach bag 2

Living in a plastic planet and the potential of plastic free July

lidia callejo

Today is the first day of Plastic Free July! In this post I want to address the severity of our plastic problem and just how important initiatives like plastic free July can be in changing or redirecting consumption habits by just encouraging people to stop, think and act. 

 

We live in a plastic world and an era of cheap, convenient and disposable products; the irony of disposable plastic is that it doesn’t go away when our need of it ceases. Plastic has a very long life time. Frans Timmermans, the vice-president of the European Commission correctly stated that ‘single-use plastics that take five seconds to produce, are used for five minutes, then take 500 years to break down again.’ Not only do we need to dramatically reduce our plastic usage but also find better solution to managing existing plastic, which is directly impacting our planet and health (by entering our bodies through food and water contaminated with micro plastics). 

 We have produced 9.2 billion tons of plastic so far. The issue is not only how dependent we have become of it but what we do when we dispose of it. Of the 9.2 billion tons of plastic that have been produced, 6.9 billion have become waste and of that waste, 6.3 billion weren’t recycled. A great deal of this unrecycled plastic waste has made its way into our oceans and endangers marine animals and the ocean ecosystem.

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One of the most frustrating parts of this issue is that we know of viable and achievable ways of making the situation better. Ocean plastic pollution is not as complex as climate change in the sense that we have much better understanding of the various components of the problem and of the solution. We know how to pick up our garbage, how to recycle it and most importantly we don’t need to entirely remake existing systems to deal with it. I believe the most important challenge we face in regards to plastic waste is our mind-set. With the increase of disposable plastic came, unsurprisingly, a throwaway culture. We are now consuming an unnecessary amount of plastic. We can clearly see walking down supermarket aisles. You will probably find that there is food unnecessarily packaged, such as vegetables wrapped in single-use plastic. Thankfully there have been complaints and, at least at the smaller scale in my day to day, I have seen/heard people becoming more aware of these details.

Are we moving forward?  

Despite the pessimistic outlook. There have been some positive changes around the globe, some more dramatic than others. For instance, recently in Maharashtra (state in India, capital city Mumbai) introduced their plastic ban that extends beyond single-use plastic. China has banned imports of waste plastic leaving it to the exporting countries to deal with it themselves, and we have seen the widening of the plastic bag tax (first tried in Ireland in 2002, when a 15-cent charge per bag was similarly found to cut bag use by 90%). 

One of the latest movements that has gathered a lot of attention is the plastic straw ban, with a lot of celebrity involvement and which has been closely followed by the media. Banning straws won’t solve our issues but act as a jump start to a challenging conversation. Hopefully also open people’s eyes about how unnecessary it is to use single-use plastic in many different occasions, and how easily it can be avoided.

There is no doubt that plastic has changed our lives and this has been for the better in some ways. For instance, plastic is used to lighten cars hence saving fuel and pollution. They are also used to extend the life of food and for medical package. The issue is the excessive use of plastic beyond that which is necessary. This is further, accentuated when one considers the vast numbers of alternatives that are available but people reject or ignore due to convenience. At home one could easily replace plastic wrappers with beeswax wrap or instead of using disposable plastic containers switch to glass or metal. The number of alternatives are extensive what is needed is an increase in willingness and it is through awareness and initiatives that this willingness can be furthered.  

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Going into Plastic Free July with five key principles

We know the problems and we have seen it, documentaries like blue planet have made us very aware so why do we continue? I believe is because we are still trapped in throwaway culture and the solution lies significantly in changing people habits. We can choose to not use plastic bags it is ultimately out choice. We can choose not to use a straw to carry a re-usable coffee cup or a water bottle. Ultimately, it comes down to practicality

The best solution to combat the amount of plastic waste is to stop it from becoming waste in the first place and rethinking out entire approach towards this. Reading thought a national geographic article I came across five principles that where regarded as vital to work towards zero-waste lifestyle and I think that they could be useful to bear in mind during and after  Plastic Free July. 

1. Refuse - refuse to buy things with lots of packaging

2. Reduce - don’t buy things you don’t really need

3. Reuse - repurpose worn out items, shop for used goods, and purchase reusable products like steel water bottles

4. Compost - up to 80 percent of waste by weight is organic. But this rarely decomposes in landfills

5. Recycle – It still takes some energy and resources to recycle, but it’s better than sending stuff to the landfill or allowing it to become litter

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Excessive plastic use is not an unsolvable problem. We know where that plastic is coming from , who is consuming and who isn’t disposing of It correctly, the answer is us. It is down to us to engage with the 5 key principles I noted before. I think it is also crucial that whenever one encounters campaigns such this plastic fee month they think of the bigger picture present by this  movements and  the potential to change lifestyle patterns, by challenging us to reconsider.

Journey into mindful consumption

Sustainable Futurelidia callejoComment

Hello! I’m Lidia, a second year Economics and Geography student with an interest in social corporate responsibility, particularly within the fashion industry. My aim is to participate in the movement towards the global consolidation of ethical and sustainable fashion, which is why for a few months I will be interning with Be For Change. As my first post, I would like to share with you where my interest in social corporate responsibility stems from and my journey into becoming a more mindful consumer! 

My previous perspective

Until recently I had a vision of the world and how it worked that lead me to become somewhat blind to our consumption patterns and their consequences to environmental and social degradation. I never stopped to think how my consumption habits were part of a larger unsustainable lifestyle. I had never really been a usual consumer of brands such as Zara, H&M, Topshop … However, I still bought my clothes from highstreet shops, that I naively thought to be better quality. I saw them as separated from the sweatshop production, simply because they had a higher price tag.

Now I know that this is not the case, and it is probable that most brands have outsourced their production to a similar location. It is likely you’re not paying more because the product is a higher quality and the company is paying their worker a living wage but because, it has a larger value added that has been created by the firm. We see this being done every day through flashy commercials that sell you this culture of more is better and that you need to keep up with the latest trends so you can be happy, empowered and be fulfilled, when it’s effect is probably the opposite.

This leads to consumers being pushed towards excessive consumption patterns that are on top unethical and very unsustainable. What I have also come to notice is that because we don’t ask ourselves who made our clothes, in what conditions or where, we become somewhat disconnected. In the sense that we buy products without bearing in mind that they are made by people and using resources that we depend upon. What is worse, one might even start to see it as something out of their reach (at least I did.) I saw events such as the Rana Plaza collapse from the viewpoint that they occurred because this is how the world works and there’s not much I, as an individual, can do. How could my consumption habits have an impact on these large corporations that make insane profits?

 Fashion Revolution

Fashion Revolution

Why I changed my mind…

Until I came to the realisation that we do have control over what we choose to buy and at the end of the day we are the ones that bear the power to change things. It is by choice that we walk into a store and purchase a product. By choosing not to buy from a certain producer we are signalling a discontent or dissatisfaction with that product, we signal that it doesn’t meet our demands. However, simple and obvious as this logic is, I believe it is hard to fully comprehend. The reason being that when you give up this mind process of ‘I’m just one more person amongst a mass that has no say’ then you realise that you now have a sort of responsibility. What is more, the initial thought of separation or being oblivious to the harmful practices of businesses acts as a way of justifying inaction.

This notion became even clearer to me as I progressed in my degree. As a student of Economics and Geography, I am prone to come across these concerns. One of my modules this year focused on labour relations and the practices of large corporations, learning about their wrongful action. But what I found most interesting was when our lecturer talked about value and how most value does not come from the product in itself but rather from business practices that create so called ‘added value’. Value added refers to the difference between the cost of inputs and the final price of the product.

This got me thinking about how much we have in fact distanced ourselves to the point where we no longer see the value in the actual product and what it does for us but rather, on what the company has created around it.

 Fashion Revolution

Fashion Revolution

The changes I made

As my awareness of the awful practices in the fashion industry increased, I increasingly started to reject any product which I couldn’t trace back to its origin and know how it had been handled during production. This meant switching to a more aware consumption. The short term and most immediate difference has evidently been a change in what I buy. I now put a lot more thought into my purchases and try to be a more mindful consumer. However, what I would say has been the biggest difference is how I see and value products, seeing them as made by us and for us. You would assume that because I am buying much less, in fact only what I need, I am missing out or giving up something. It is very much the opposite case; I have in fact gained. Reducing my consumption and making sure I know what I am buying and the story behind it is a much more rewarding shopping experience. Mainly because you value and take pride in what you have purchased. I believe that what we wear affects how other’s see us and how we feel, it reflects us. 

It is very true that it can be hard to find ethical brands that make products that you like and are affordable. Nonetheless, addressing production practices is only one side of the issue. Even if one reduces their consumptions habits and just thinks before buying that is already a step forwards. What I have come to realise is that it is not only the production process that has been undervalued but also consumption, we now live in a hyper-consumerist culture. A practice of mindful consumption that opposes established routines and values more sustainable consumption patterns is not only good environmentally and socially, but also good for you as a consumer. However obvious this mind process might seem, it can be hard simply because we unconsciously give in to this excessive buying culture (which for me has more negative aspect socially, environmentally and personally that positive.) 

Where that leaves me now

All of these reasons led me to become interested in a movement led by enterprises such as this one, Be For Change, which are at the forefront of engaging in as well as starting a difficult conversation. Challenging conventional business practices which I find inspiring. Furthermore, as I started off and have hopefully transmitted that our mind-set is crucial for achieving a sustainable lifestyle and it is through talking, educating and engaging that this is changed and that is precisely what I feel like Be For Change does. It is engaging in a conversation that is hard, mainly because a lot of people aren’t willing to actively change their lifestyle - either because they wrongly don’t believe they have a powerful enough position or simply because they just can’t be bothered. If there is something I have realised, rather late considering I am studying a degree in economics, is that the consumer has the ultimate power. When you choose to reject the mainstream production and instead purchase from an ethical and sustainable business, that values you their producers and most importantly workers as well as the environment, a change is being made. A small but significant one that is fuelling a wider movement. How things work is not imposed on us, it is true that no one can single handedly change the mechanism of an entire industry but by acknowledging just how important everyone’s role is real changes can be made.

Something that helped me change my perspective was asking myself when I walked into high streets shops just how it is possible that the prices are so low, this meant asking myself at what personal, social and environmental cost has this product been made?  This is the main difference between my previous and current attitude towards consumption, I am now aware of the power that my decisions can have and intend to use that power to help promote a culture of mindful consumption. 

Massive, plastic fail... right here

OneAware MagazineAna CarneiroComment

Just... watch the video and you'll see what I mean...

If you made it till the end of the video (first of all, thank you!), you've read that I'm not happy at all about this plastic packaging fail. I'm so incredibly disappointed at myself for not even thinking that the company I'm working with would do this. Very silly mistake with a very annoying consequence... Anyway, moving forward I shall always make sure that nothing gets sent to us in plastic again.