This is a collaborative post.
During the 20th century, Western civilization started to develop a thirst for consumption, which was exemplified by the excesses of the 1980s. Even now, while it may seem that we have worked past that frenzy, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, we have quietly internalized that way of thinking, making it that much harder to get rid of. Of course, now that we are aware of the cycles of overproduction and overconsumption, we can finally put an end to them.
At least, that should be our goal. Unfortunately, not many people realize that they are important players in the game. But hopefully, we’re about to illuminate some of the ways consumers can participate in building a more circular economy. Ultimately, it all comes down to making conscious purchases and supporting sustainable businesses.
What Is Circular Economy and What Is It Replacing?
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s stop for a moment to consider the purpose of a circular economy. Why should we strive for a different model than the one we have?
Well, as it happens, the linear economy model we currently live in is an intrinsically broken system. For one, it originally assumed that the Earth could be a limitless source of raw materials. After all, each production process required brand new resources to be drawn from nature.
The resulting goods were supposed to have a temporary shelf life to incentivize consumers to keep updating to newer models. So the older commodities ended up filling our landfills. After all, if the Earth could provide an unlimited amount of raw materials, surely it could also regenerate all that waste.
We now know how wrong those two core beliefs were. The Earth isn’t a source of limitless energy, production materials, and food. And burying plastics and metals underground won’t exactly cause them to deteriorate. At best, microscopic particles coming from those materials will pollute underground water sources.
Once people were made aware of this, they started panicking. However, rather than addressing their overconsumption and waste production, they usually focused on overpopulation. Needless to say, reducing the number of people who live on this planet is never the right solution. Instead, we should reconsider our consumption habits to change the cycles of production.
Can Our Behaviors and Purchases Lead to a Circular Economy?
Unlike the linear economy model, the goal of circular economy is to divert used materials from landfills. This model aims to reuse, repurpose, or otherwise recycle commodities that might have otherwise been considered waste. There’s just one problem — recycling requires energy and resources most manufacturers aren’t willing to invest in. But is there a way for consumers to prompt these companies to change their ways?
In a word: yes. As many studies have shown by now, environmental concerns can influence consumer attitudes and purchasing choices. That means that worrying about the planet and its capacity to provide an endless supply of renewable materials can make us more conscious consumers.
After all, the impact of consumption doesn’t stop at exchanging money for goods and services. Instead, we have to take into account every step in the chain of production and supply, the resources that went into creating and shipping goods. All of these things factor into the total environmental impact a product has.
Sadly, there are also barriers that stand between us and a circular economy. If we want the businesses we shop from to use sustainable materials and pay their workers fairly, we have to accept steeper prices. So, while circular economy does lower the cost that production has for the planet, it may affect our wallets negatively — at least until the cost of recycling goes down as technology advances.
How You Can Contribute to Circular Economy in Your Everyday Life
Making conscious purchases isn’t a simple matter of picking whatever comes in a green bottle. Instead, the process has to start with some good, old-fashioned research.
Educate Yourself and Others
If enough of us are willing to commit to making conscious purchases, all brands will see the benefits of transitioning to more sustainable methods of production. But remember, their primary motive is to increase sales. With that in mind, many of them choose not to invest in sustainable production, instead settling for the appearance of sustainability to appease conscious consumers.
Oftentimes, brands slap green imagery and vague labels stating that their products are “100% natural” or “made from recycled materials” on their packaging and call it a day. But really, have you ever considered the definition of those words? In a way, everything in this world comes from nature. And that second example doesn’t specify the percentage of recycled materials that they used.
This phenomenon, known as greenwashing, is the main issue we might come across when looking to enter the sphere of conscious consumption. So that’s exactly why educating ourselves about the different materials and chemicals we might want to avoid is so important. Besides, educating ourselves allows us to spread the message of conscious consumption to our loved ones!
Build Long-Term Relationships with the Things You Own
The key to practicing conscious consumption is in learning to appreciate the things we own. Instead of keeping shredded clothes in the back of your closet or throwing them out, learn to mend. Taking care of your clothes will also allow you to donate them if you really can’t wear them anymore.
This mindset is applicable in other areas of our lives. For example, if you have a chair you have grown bored of, upcycle it. If something is broken, fix it. The goal of all this is to hold onto the things you own and avoid buying new items for as long as possible.
If You Must — Buy Secondhand or Local
Of course, all this doesn’t mean that you have to be a minimalist or that you can never buy new things ever again. We just have to be smart about our purchases.
Rather than supporting a multinational business, check out your local secondhand store. Alternatively, find artisan businesses in your area.
Basically, do whatever you can to support independent local businesses. They’re usually much more forthcoming about their material sourcing and production practices than chain stores. And if nothing else, at least farmer’s market vendors don’t package their produce in individual plastic bags.
Find Sustainable Alternatives for Expendable Items
Lastly, we also suggest finding sustainable alternatives for the expendable items you have to use. Instead of buying paper towels in bulk, go for fabric napkins. For period products, many people have transitioned to using menstrual cups, absorbent underwear, or even washable pads. On a similar note, many have abandoned plastic drinking straws in favor of paper, silicon or metal ones.
Build the Future You Want to Live In
Ultimately, we’re not asking you to commit to all of these practices at once. It’s important to give ourselves some slack every once in a while. Still, making conscious purchases is an excellent first step toward building the future we want to see.
However, while consumer choices certainly make an impact, they’re not the only way for individuals to make their priorities known. We can also vote for politicians who share our economic priorities — or even enter politics. After all, those are the people who can actually make a legislative difference on regional and state levels.