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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org